Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday went on a public relations offensive ahead of his keenly awaited speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) today, declaring that his government had managed «to keep Greece on its feet» despite an unprecedented debt crisis and appealing to the members of his newly reshuffled Cabinet to tackle problems head-on. Speaking during a televised Cabinet meeting held in the northern city, Papandreou sought to justify his government’s actions over the past few months, and to claim credit for steering the country away from bankruptcy, mindful of local elections looming in November. «We were called upon to tackle an unprecedented crisis and managed to keep Greece on its feet and its hope alive but we are still on the alert,» the premier said. «We are here to work,» he added. In a busy day of meetings and public appearances, Papandreou visited a state hospital where he reassured staff of his administration’s commitment to supporting state healthcare. He also attended a seminar for businessmen and traders, organized by PASOK, where he expressed solidarity with entrepreneurs facing financial difficulties or bankruptcy. «The main problem is not how new businesses will open but how existing ones will survive,» he said. He added, however, that his administration was working on facilitating the procedures for those wanting to set up a business. During the Cabinet meeting, State Minister Haris Paboukis heralded draft legislation that would also cut bureaucracy for would-be investors in large-scale projects. The process of issuing licenses is to be accelerated significantly, meaning that licenses can be obtained in as little as three months from the date of application, Paboukis said. It is thought that Papandreou will elaborate on his government’s plans for attracting investors and boosting sluggish growth during his speech in Thessaloniki tonight. It is also believed that the premier will offer some kind of relief or exemptions for low-income or vulnerable social groups though this year’s budget constrictions will not allow him to pledge handouts as is traditionally done during the TIF speech. Still Papandreou will have to find a way of winning round both his audience of businessmen and the public as he cannot afford to alienate voters ahead of local elections due on November 7. Members of workers’ unions and others who oppose the government’s imposition of austerity measures dictated by its international creditors yesterday made their discontent known, staging small but vociferous demonstrations in the northern port city. Nearly 4,000 police officers are to be mobilized today when the main march by labor unions is expected to attract thousands. Finance minister heralds more austerity: crackdown on debt-mired state firms Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou yesterday called on managers at all state companies and utilities (together known as DEKOs) to supply his office with details about the current state of their finances and their budget forecasts for 2011 by September 20. The call is believed to be the first step in a bid to stamp out mismanagement among DEKOs, such as the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) and many public transport companies, which are heavily in debt. According to statistics for more than 52 DEKOs, these companies’ total debts reached 18.3 billion euros last year compared to 10.6 billion in 2008, an increase of 72.6 percent. The relatively high wages of employees at some DEKOs are believed to be partly responsible for these companies’ heavy debts. At many state companies, the average employee’s salary came to almost 50,000 euros last year. In debt-mired OSE, a key focus of the government’s crackdown, some train drivers have been taking home an annual salary of 100,000 euros.