ND turns to spending

The government is preparing a spending package of almost 1 billion euros which it hopes will help convince the public that it is sensitive to their needs at a time of economic crisis, according to sources. Although the measures might not be announced during today’s meeting of New Democracy’s parliamentary group, sources said that the Economy and Finance Ministry has given the green light to an increase of 500 million euros in public investment and a further rise of 400 million euros in social spending. Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis has been under pressure for some time from members of his own party as well as some sectors of the public to adopt measures that would be more beneficial to the poorer members of society at a time when the global crisis is impacting on Greece as well. The Inner Cabinet also agreed yesterday that total spending on areas that were afflicted by the devastating wildfires in the summer of 2007 would reach 2 billion euros by the end of next year. Some 1 billion has already been spent. Aides of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who will be the last to speak at today’s meeting, were insisting last night that the premier will not stray from his line of following a solid economic policy and avoiding talk of handouts. It is thought the extra spending might be announced on Friday, when the 2009 budget is submitted to Parliament. Focusing on the economy will, at least, give the government an opportunity to divert attention from the Vatopedi scandal, which reached a new low yesterday when the MPs sitting on the parliamentary committee investigating the property swap watched the secretly filmed footage of the husband of a lawyer who is a witness in the case discussing the illegal exchange of property and land. The DVD shed little light on the allegations that government officials set up a land swap with the Vatopedi Monastery to favor the Mount Athos monks at the expense of the state. But it took the probe in another unexpected and unsavory direction that had some MPs hoping this phase of the investigation would not drag on.