A hole in the works

The disgraceful way in which public works are constructed in Greece was revealed yet again in a dramatic – and nearly fatal – fashion when the ground collapsed over work in progress in Doukissis Plakentias Street, opening up an enormous hole. The head of the Eastern Department of the Technical Chamber attributed the subsidence to geological studies that were deliberately inadequate in order to lower the cost to construction companies. Experts know that there are many old wells, underground rivers and a large aquifer in the area, and that the subsoil must be examined every 10 meters. Construction companies frequently fail to do this, simply taking samples at some points along the tunnel, and ignoring the effect on the area alongside it. This is not an unexpected disaster, but a «collateral loss due to negligence» for the sake of increased profit for contractors. Given the extremely rare, if not non-existent, judicial proceedings against the perpetrators of such crimes in the past, construction companies will probably take heart. This case is even more outrageous when there are grounds for suspicion that the competition for this particular project was announced with specifications which were not only tailor-made for the consortium it was assigned to, but also meant it was the only company fully able to meet those specifications. Clearly this procedure emboldened the contractors, who did not bother to ensure the project’s safety. These are the negative consequences of vested interests. The high cost of projects which cronies secure does not even ensure that they are completed safely or on time. Projects – in this case the Metro – are divided into small sections so that they are not worth the while of large foreign technical companies, and at the same time satisfying local companies with the right contacts. As many works as possible are tied in with the 2004 Games, so that tight deadlines are turned into gold mines of special bonuses, revised plans and additional works, pushing the profits of the construction companies involved sky high. The question is why the government evinces no desire to change this arrangement, to clean up this rotten sector. If it does not, its compliant and essentially criminal stance suggests that it has linked its fate and its retention of power to this gigantic web of entangled interests.

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