Era of transparency heralded

In a first for Greek politics and an attempt to prove that he wants to do things differently to previous governments, Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday allowed his first ministerial meeting to be broadcast live on television before his newly appointed Cabinet assumed its duties. Papandreou, who will also be acting as foreign minister for the time being, and his 13 other ministers were sworn in yesterday morning before the first meeting of a ministerial council, which included the 21 deputy ministers and two alternate ministers who have been named in the government. In keeping with tradition, Papandreou addressed his new team, but in an apparent sign of a new spirit of transparency in government he allowed television channels to broadcast the event live. «The mandate we have received is to turn things around, to change the way the country is governed and to bring some dignity to the relationship between the state and citizens,» Papandreou told his ministers, some of whom took notes while others preferred simply to listen. Papandreou gave his ministers a one-week deadline to assess the problems at their ministries and report back to him. The new premier, unlike his predecessor Costas Karamanlis, intends to hold regular meetings of the ministerial council, not just the Cabinet, sources said. Papandreou said that Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis would soon be announcing measures relating to the way that ministers take official decisions and the subsequent publication of these on the Internet, which was one of PASOK’s campaign pledges designed to improve transparency. The prime minister also heralded an effort to simplify Greece’s laws, which is a task that is being undertaken by State Minister Haris Paboukis. Papandreou stressed to his ministers the need to combat corruption, which he said had reached «pandemic levels.» «We have to become the catalysts for change, not the apologists of power,» he said, ordering his ministers to dismantle any committees operating under their ministry’s auspices, identifying them as being too closely linked to political parties and a drain on financial resources. However Papandreou did not stop there. He then invited Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis into the meeting to present some of the problems that people encounter in their everyday dealings with the public sector in particular. This part of the meeting was also televised. Kaminis stressed to the new government that each change of administration should not lead also to a wholesale change of personnel in the civil service and that it was important to hold on to people that were doing their job properly. The head of the watchdog said that the Ombudsman’s office had repeatedly informed ministers in the past about its concerns but this rarely led to any action being taken. Kaminis also underlined the need for the government to tackle the immigration problem and suggested that a temporary «halfway» solution needed to be found for undocumented migrants living in Greece, whereby they would be given the right to receive health and social care without fear of being arrested. Sources said yesterday that Papandreou’s appointments had generally been welcomed within PASOK and that there was no sign that they would cause any internal unrest. However, the prime minister’s decision to abolish the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry was slammed by the leader of the Popular Orthodox Rally, Giorgos Karatzaferis, who said that this was a victory for Matthew Nimetz, the UN mediator in Greece’s name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. ND hopefuls set for November 7 contest In one of his last acts as New Democracy’s president, Costas Karamanlis, yesterday set November 7 as the date when the conservatives will hold an extraordinary conference to elect a new leader. Karamanlis’s decision, taken after a long meeting with former Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, has prompted displeasure among some conservatives who were hoping that the conference would last at least two days and would give members the chance to discuss some of the failures that led to ND’s defeat. One of those who voiced his disagreement was Meimarakis, who is now being tipped as a leadership contender. «If the conference is being held just to elect a new leader, why don’t we hold it tomorrow?» Meimarakis reportedly told colleagues. Another likely candidate opposed to the process is former Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, who suggested that a new leader should be chosen by party members rather than being voted to power by conference delegates. «I think the times and democracy demand that ballot boxes should be set up across the country so that friends who support New Democracy, voters, can take part in choosing a new leader.» Meimarakis suggested that at least the delegates should be re-elected rather than being the same ones that voted for Karamanlis to take over as leader in 1997. Sources close to two other leadership hopefuls, Dora Bakoyannis and Antonis Samaras, said that they had no objections to the process.