Flying in formation to public detriment

At the close of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the Athens Stock Exchange was hosted at the «Orea Ellas» (Beautiful Greece) coffee shop at the Haftia district in downtown Athens. Stock prices and, by extension, the country’s growth index were shaped in a hall full of smoke and noise. The stock market later moved to Sophocleous Street, but not much appears to have changed since then. In Charles Dickens’ account of mid-19th century London, the stock market was accommodated in dodgy haunts of shysters. There has been little progress ever since. The Athens bourse may have moved to a more prestigious building on Sophocleous, but many of the big economic transactions are still agreed upon inside a small coffee shop behind a branch of the Public Works Ministry. What we know is that virtually all bids for public project tenders are pre-agreed in some way. What we do not know is the details: how the deals are made, as well as the role of the infamous «mathematical formula» (which was introduced to determine the winners of public tenders). A Kathimerini report today shows that groups of contractors meet in that coffee shop on Wednesdays in order to submit their bids. There are not many contractors. In each group there is one construction firm which has the equipment and the capability to undertake a public project. However, the contractor is accompanied by a number of allies, known as «pilots,» whose role is to make bogus bids in order to manipulate the tender. It seems that, according to the mathematical formula, the more bids a group has made the more chances a «group leader» has to win the tender. It is understood that «group leaders» also make agreements between them so as to make sure they do not miss out on the spoils. It is worth noting that the groups function along Sicilian lines and follow the Mafia’s code of silence – anyone who dares violate these laws is lost. Like Greece’s soccer clubs, public project contractors have their own cartel.

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