OPINION

Managing spending

Socialist officials attending a joint ministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday were fiercely critical of the excessive spending by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee. Many a minister said that the committee tends to indulge in lavish luxury which is accompanied by ill-thought-out and excessive expenditure, all of which are out of sync with the current economic situation. Unofficial information leaked by government sources put the Athens 2004 budget overrun in the area of 300 billion drachmas, at a time when the projected budget was down to 700 billion drachmas. Government ministers were mostly disturbed by the lack of transparency in the administration of the Olympic Games, especially as regards the decision-making bodies that authorize exorbitant spending on activities of questionable necessity. It is indicative of the deep discontent that the PASOK ministers have complained extensively about the amendment requested by Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a demand that was turned down by the government, which would have given the committee the right to issue a single financial statement covering the entire eight-year period of its operations. This effectively meant that the books of the committee would be audited only once, after the Games were over. The grave atmosphere at the meeting was also highlighted by the fact that one Socialist cadre raised the precedent of Australia, where, in the last phase, the government put the responsible minister in charge of the corresponding organization, giving him control over the final preparatory stage and the organization of the Olympics. Realizing that the cost has skyrocketed far beyond the original budget, the government is anxiously seeking ways to monitor spending inside Athens 2004, focusing its efforts on the avoidance of decisions which inflate costs. However, this requires a radical change of the administration’s mentality – a change that must take place right away. Since the very beginning, Kathimerini has expressed deep reservations about and objections to such a costly undertaking. Unchecked spending and budget overruns, it then warned, would be an unavoidable evil. The government took a different decision and is now faced with the consequences. It makes no sense for it to try to dodge its responsibilities. The government created the situation it now decries. The government will have to find a solution to the problem it spawned and pay the price.