OPINION

High cost of works

Allegations that the total cost of building the Attiki Odos highway has skyrocketed to a level that by far exceeds the projected budget of 426.8 billion drachmas were seemingly well grounded. This conclusion can be drawn from the data that the government – reluctantly – released under pressure from the opposition. The government spokesman had a very difficult task yesterday as he strove to create confusion over the actual cost of the project. He did so in two ways: first, by trying to present huge spending on various works as being unrelated to the project and second, by uttering dubious excuses over numerous additional works which hugely added to the overall cost. It finally seems that the total cost of constructing the Attiki Odos highway will be in the region of 3.5 billion euros (1.2 trillion drachmas) – indeed a scandalous figure. In any case, the government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis claims that the overall cost of hosting the 2004 Olympic Games will not exceed 4.4 billion euros (1.5 trillion drachmas). Regardless of any budget overrun that may occur and despite the serious repercussions on the Greek economy, it is absurd that a few dozen kilometers of road cost the same as hosting an Olympiad. Government officials must realize that it is not necessary to be a skeptic or a vehement critic of the government to object to such budget overruns. It’s the government’s problem, not the critics’, harsh as these may be. Public works have always been beset with corruption, flaws, budget overruns and illicit profit-making. The case of Attiki Odos and other big projects in contemporary Greece is hence nothing new. It seems, however, that in this case the mark has been overstepped. Should half of what constructors say about project allocations be true, the extent of political and business entanglement is sickening. The combination of a high number of projects and the tight time frames for their completion may prove fatal. Constructors have taken advantage of the «national goal» of a successful Olympic Games. In the name of this goal, criminal flaws are covered up, the projects’ costs climb, while the government’s clients enjoy preferential treatment. The squandered money is public money. It is money which could be spend on other projects necessary to the nation.