Arrogant or ignorant?

Speaking at the official inauguration of a new ring road around Patras, Prime Minister Costas Simitis rebuffed allegations concerning project imperfections or budget overruns which he said were no more than «mud-slinging.» Simitis said he is confident that projects are being carried out in a manner that «fully abides with the public interest» budget-wise, while in qualitative terms they fall in line with European Union regulations. The premier’s political motivation is understandable. This, however, does not lend his observations any credibility. If Simitis wants to start a substantial dialogue about public works rather than indulge into government propaganda, he should keep a clear distinction in mind: Completing projects is one thing while their cost, delays and quality are quite another. The government is right to take pride in its big projects and to extract as much as political gain from them as possible. But by no means does the conclusion of a project absolve budget overruns or shoddy works in its construction. Public opinion over government efficiency and credibility is inevitably shaped by such factors. We shall all be satisfied when the works on the Kifissos River are complete, but this does not mean that we will forget the people of Moschato who were flooded due to the criminal negligence of constructors under full governmental tolerance. We shall all benefit from traffic decongestion thanks to the Attiki Odos highway, but we shall by no means forget that we paid three times the original budget. We all take pleasure in using the metro, but this does not excuse tragicomic phenomena such as the hole that opened up in Doukissis Plakentias Street or the earlier one that swallowed the kiosk on Panepistimiou Street. However, there is something worse than Simitis’s politically driven attempt to belittle the importance of these issues. It is that his demeanor suggests an arrogant rejection of all criticism as being a priori spurious and that the premier is losing sense of reality, provided that he truly believes what he says. Simitis is faced with a dilemma: He will either allow the situation to deteriorate, insisting that everything is fine and thereby fueling public indignation, or he will make a radical break that might help him improve his tainted image.