Setting the example

In a recent article in The Economist titled «A Greek lesson,» the British journal praised the soon-to-be-inaugurated Rio-Antirio bridge. The article noted that the project will be delivered ahead of the original schedule, adding that it was completed within budget. It is worth mentioning that no labor accidents occurred during construction works. One can only admire the magnitude and the technical merits of the new bridge linking the western mainland of Greece with the Peloponnese peninsula. It makes one wonder how Greece – a country with a very bad name in the construction sector – was able to deliver such a grand project. Construction projects in the country are often dogged by shoddy construction, huge delays, significant budget overruns, wastage of funds, and a high rate of labor accidents. It is striking to compare the building of the Rio-Antirio bridge to the opening of the Attiki Odos highway, a project whose final cost hovered at double the original forecast, or to the Olympic Village, where 15 people lost their lives despite their working much closer to the ground. So what made the difference in the case of the Rio-Antirio bridge? The answer is plain. It lies in the nature of the construction firm and the type of the contract. First of all, this is a self-funded project. The French constructor had many reasons to deliver the project ahead of schedule, knowing that it is the exploitation of the project and not budget overruns that create revenue. In addition, the firm is a multinational one. It operates on the basis of rules and principles. It is not encumbered by the limitations of conflicting interests. It is a global player, which knows that its image is at stake – a parameter that will determine its success in bidding for other projects. The Rio-Antirio bridge presented the French constructors with a technical challenge, a chance for specialization, and an opportunity to advertise their capabilities to the whole world. The bridge presented the firm with a challenge and an opportunity to improve its position in the globally competitive construction market. This was never an issue for the domestic construction market where bidding is pre-scripted, competition is substituted by the notorious «mathematical formula» for awarding public projects, and profits are guaranteed by the circle of political and business entanglement. All these played a major role in terms of outcome, quality, safety, and the price tag – all aspects where Greece’s construction sector is sorely lacking. The example of the French firm is unique for domestic construction standards and marks out the path for much-needed change at home – a change desired by the people but which must be imposed from above.