NEWS

Another government failure as the EU is forced to step in

The European Union has taken charge of the Greek Land Register, which had become a strain on Greek-EU relations. Last Thursday, European Commissioner Michel Barnier explained that continued funding for the Third Community Support Framework (CFIII) for the land register would be subject to certain conditions, which are somewhat burdensome for Greece. The EU, which has provided about 35 billion drachmas for the first phase of the project – although so far only 8,500 of the 35,000 square kilometers agreed to be covered by the second framework have been completed- has asked for the return of 20 billion drachmas. At the same time, a new operational program for the Land Register will be drawn up, and it will be examined by EU-appointed international experts. Likewise, the register’s inclusion in CFIII (up until 2006) will be funded with more money from the Greek budget, and any contracts arranged will relate exclusively to new work. Under continual supervision Provision of funds by the EU, Barnier explained, will be directly dependent on the effectiveness of the project which will be confirmed by international experts and special fiscal monitoring. The commissioner was scathing on the subject of the register, pointing out irregularities, lack of transparency, and poor organization which resulted in three times less work costing twice as much. He noted that while 35,000 square kilometers were to have been covered by the Second Community Support Framework, only 8,440 square kilometers were covered, at a cost that rose from 44 billion drachmas to 95 billion drachmas. Barnier said that any expenditure on the register that was taken from the national budget in the hope of recovering the cost from CFIII will not be covered. This means that Greece must meet the cost of registering the remaining 26,560 square kilometers. One Greek who is well informed about the matter is New Democracy Euro Deputy Costas Hatzidakis. He has been following the issue since 1995 and has asked questions of the Commission which, he told Kathimerini, until early 2001 acted as if it didn’t understand what was going on. Hatzidakis has frequently clashed with Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis and other government officials who openly accuse him of undermining Greek interests. Hatzidakis counters the accusation by saying that as a Euro Deputy he must show unlimited respect for the money of European and Greek taxpayers. I am obliged, he explains to monitor the way funds are managed, and neither Laliotis nor any supposedly reformist government is going to stop me. He blames the European Commission for, as he says, only discovering the problem in early 2001, when the program was already totally bogged down. Everyone in the government knows, asserts Hatzidakis, that the numerous complaints made to the EU must be investigated. The directorate in charge of the domestic market is looking into various complaints in connection with the assignment of the studies, and its findings will come out soon. Hatzidakis describes government criticism of judges with whose opinions it disagrees, as unseemly. If we accept the government’s reasoning that these judges are the agents of the opposition, he argues, then we must conclude that any judges who shelve cases are acting on behalf of the government. This reasoning leads nowhere, in his view. If we had a more serious and responsible public works minister and the EU took a stricter line, we would never have got into this mess, says Hatzidakis, referring to the fact that the Land Register, originally scheduled for completion in 2015, will not not be ready before 2100, at this rate. Prosecutors on the attack The crisis that has broken out in relations between the government and the public prosecutors is creating an explosive situation. The recent and increasingly aggressive verbal attacks on some prosecutors by government officials have offended most of the judiciary. The issue came to a head when certain government officials, with the ease conferred by ministerial status, and without citing any evidence, attributed political motives and partisan conspiracy to two prosecutors. It is not by chance that these prosecutors had found serious indications of penal culpability in two cases they investigated: The case of actions by the State Portfolio Management company (DEKA) prior to the election, when it manipulated stocks so as to create an image of the stock market that favored the government, uncovered by Prosecutor Dimitris Asprogerakas, and more recently the cases of penal charges of mismanagement against the officials in charge of Ktimatologio SA, as uncovered by Prosecutor Giorgos Gerakis. These two cases were a political embarrassment to the government, since they tarnished its image as a good administrator safeguarding the public interest. Tough warning The upshot of these attacks was a clear, tough warning to the government last week by the Union of Public Prosecutors that if it did not stop its ministers from involving the legal activities of prosecutors in political disputes they would react, using all means – from applying to the courts as ordinary citizens, to submitting complaints to international unions of judicial workers. Prior to this there had been a similar, though less heated, announcement by the full bench of the Supreme Court which the government, however, does not seem to have taken into account. Once again, some ministers, notably Laliotis and Press Minister Dimitris Reppas, suspect prosecutors of being involved in partisan conspiracies with New Democracy. Prime Minister Costas Simitis became involved last Wednesday, when he is said to have told PASOK Executive Committee members there were serious indications of connivance between certain judicial officials and ND. The premier’s announcement was interpreted as having been made in full knowledge of the reaction it would spark, since Simitis chose to make this attack rather than have legal charges hanging over ministers and other state officials who have broken the law. And the easiest way was for the premier to ignore substantial evidence furnished by the prosecutors’ inquiries – despite his affirmation of respect for the independence of the judiciary or his earlier advice that anyone with evidence of mismanagement should present it to the public prosecutor- and to go on the counterattack. Besides, one case is pending in Parliament, and it is unlikely that the Parliamentary immunity of those involved in the DEKA case will be lifted so that the court can find out whether the prosecutor was right to press charges. And given the slow pace at which cases come to court, it will be a long time before the Land Register case is heard. Sixty Appeal and First Instance prosecutors have made a written request for a general assembly of their union, requesting protection from the personal attacks by institutional organs of the State. COSTAS KEKIS The saga of the Land Register March 1995: The government begins an advertising campaign in the press concerning the Land Register. September 1997: The Public Works Minister announces: We can say that at last, after 160 years, the Greek Land Register is on the way to implementation and development. October 1998: Government announcements continue. Visiting the offices of Ktimatologio SA (the public company charged with the task of implementing the project), Prime Minister Costas Simitis declares that the Land Register is a basic tool for the development of the country. July 2000: It is revealed that there is no money available to assign studies planned the previous year, and that the register is only able to continue with funding from the Third Community Support Framework. January 2001: In a letter to the Greek government, the European Commission notes that, despite the considerable sums of money that have been made available, there are serious problems with the project. The letter also states that: 1) It was expected that by the end of 2001 the Land Register would be in operation and cover 28,222 square kilometers. According to figures from the Public Works Ministry, the work completed since 1995 covers 8,000 square kilometers. At the current rate, the register will be delayed until after 2100. 2) The project is excessively costly. According to data from Ktimatologio SA, the initial cost of the contracts for the pilot phase was 8.1 billion drachmas, but it has risen to 13.9 billion drachmas. The initial cost of the second phase was 4.3 billion drachmas, and now has skyrocketed to 8.2 billion drachmas. The third phase, originally budgeted at 23.9 billion drachmas, is now 50.6 billion drachmas. Added to the original cost is new work amounting to some 13 billion drachmas (for drafting forest maps, establishing registry offices, and missions by registry teams). 3) In the first pilot phase, 850,000 declarations of rights led to 150,000 objections (18 percent of the total). Apart from raising the costs of the register, such a number questions the quality of the studies carried out. In its letter of reply, the ministry claims that the divergences are only in the order of around 20 percent, and it attributes delays and failings to lack of experience. March 2001: European Commissioner Michel Barnier announces the commission’s decision to postpone funding for the register, because of delays and shortcomings in the implementation of this program. Six years after the approval of the operational program and in spite of the provision of considerable EU funds, no part of the program has been made operational. Barnier says: Unfortunately, according to data recently made available, although 83 percent of the budget has been absorbed, only 21 percent of the work has been completed. April 2001: Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis goes abroad to unblock the procedures for the Land Register. He fails. June 2001: Negotiations between the government and the Commission continue. New examples of bad management and irregularities connected with the planning of the register come to light. They range from illegally charging landowners for the cost of the register to the failure to locate landowners who live directly opposite the premises of Ktimatologio SA.