Bleak outlook

Inside information over the state of public finances, the progress of Olympics-related projects, and preparations for the Games paints a very worrying picture. The conservative government of Costas Karamanlis has, from the very first day, found itself in at the deep end. The deadlines are extremely tight while, in some cases, the horse has bolted. The myth of a «strong economy» has been tarnished by repeated disclosures, but the grim picture will only be revealed in full after the completion of the Commission-supervised review of Greece’s public finances. The country’s extended fiscal imbalances had been fudged with creative accounting, allowing former Prime Minister Costas Simitis to build the virtual reality of a robust economy. The worst nightmare for the responsible officials, however, is the lagging projects. Furthermore, the rate of implementation is too low for there to be hopes that the projects could be completed in time. The country’s image could well be tainted. Exploiting the serious delays, some companies try to blackmail the government in order to win additional, lavish contracts. Worse, despite the non-stop spending by the State, many of the works under construction do not meet the requisite quality standards. This is largely because the public works sector has been severely corroded by conflicting interests. Health competition has long been undermined, feeding a shady network of interests that grew into a monster over the past eight years. At this crucial phase, with the country racing against time, it is obvious that the New Democracy government does not have the power to take drastic measures in order to purge the system of corruption. Still, it can send a message of its intentions and, more specifically, show how it will deal with companies that seek to blackmail the government. However, these are not the only pieces of the Olympic jigsaw puzzle. The National Archaeological Museum is indicative of the overall situation. Given its precious collection, the museum was rightly considered as one of the main attractions for the foreign visitors who will visit Athens on the occasion of the Games. It was for this reason that the government decided to completely refurbish the building. Now, it is taken for granted that, save for a small section, the Archaeological Museum will not be ready in time for the Games. In other words, renovation works could have been postponed for after the Olympics. All these are pebbles in the same problematic mosaic. As things stand now, the new government must explore every avenue to avoid the worst.

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