NEWS

Political blow for Laliotis but it’s the country that will end up paying out a fortune

Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis has suffered a political blow following the European Commission’s recognition that, despite government assurances to the contrary, the Land Register is way over budget and the State will have to fork out billions of drachmas. Yet another shadow has fallen across the image of the effective minister which Laliotis has so sedulously cultivated by means of good public relations. And this is just a few days before the ruling PASOK Party Congress, at which he expects to be elected party secretary. Laliotis hopes that this move will take him out of the line of fire and counter any damage he has incurred during the exercise of his ministerial duties. Unfortunately for him, however, just a week before this next political ambition of his is due to be achieved, the big issue of the Land Register arose, not because his work was undermined by the opposition New Democracy Party and the public prosecutors he claims are in cahoots with it, but because of poor calculation, lack of transparency and numerous irregularities by services under his supervision, and for which Greece must answer to Brussels. This recent development has infuriated the minister, as was evident during his long speech to PASOK’s Executive Committee last Wednesday. Experienced in party intrigue, Laliotis can scent trouble brewing. He senses that the advance he is preparing through his shift within the party, by which he aims to become the undisputed No. 2 man and informally acquire the power to co-manage the government’s overall work, not only worries New Democracy – which sees him as a serious opponent and will try to hit him at every opportunity – but also his own fellow-party officials. Alliances of party barons It is an open secret that the PASOK barons are not too pleased with the ambitious steps taken by Laliotis, who has used his own special public relations strategy with the press to avoid substantive criticism of his work as a minister. Hence they will use every means possible to diminish him politically, and will soon leak information about his ministerial shortcomings, including delays and spending in excess of budget in the major projects he has advertised so heavily. Quite a few PASOK members believe that Laliotis’s successor at the ministry will run into serious trouble from the very first day in office, in the attempt both to tackle the projects as well as all the obstacles, and not to criticize the former minister’s work. One example of what awaits the new minister is the bad management of the Land Register, as noted by Brussels. There is widespread feeling within PASOK that the relationship between Laliotis and Prime Minister Costas Simitis will soon be tested. Sources say that the future party secretary – who is by nature not a delegator – wants a more active role in government, and has asked the premier for a regular joint weekly meeting. We may soon see Laliotis demanding that the party leader and prime minister bring more government matters to the Executive Committee for discussion. This is a demand that would meet with strenuous opposition from those leading party officials who are speaking vehemently of the minister’s shift to the administrative branch of the party. It is widely believed that following today’s election of PASOK Central Committee members, silent alliances will be formed that will attempt to vote Laliotis out of the top 10. ND set to attack And then there is New Democracy. Party leaders believe an all-powerful Laliotis would create many problems for them en route to the next election. His unorthodox methods, which often succeed in doing harm to ND through the media, have frequently put the opposition party in a difficult position. So ND is expected to lose no opportunity to exploit Laliotis’s weaknesses in order to damage him and keep him permanently on the defense. And his Achilles’ heel is his Public Works Ministry, as there are huge delays in many of the major projects and they are well over budget, at the taxpayer’s expense. 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