OPINION

Rolling back reams of red tape

During a Cabinet meeting yesterday, the conservative prime minister issued strict instructions that nine major investment projects be extricated from the bureaucratic mill within the next three months. Costas Karamanlis ordered the responsible ministers to set up the requisite institutional framework for land use so that would-be investors are in a position to know from the very beginning where, and if, they can invest their money. The tragicomic tug of war between, on the one hand, the hapless efforts of governments to attract substantial investments, and on the other, the state bureaucracy that chokes up investment projects, takes a heavy toll on the national economy. The public is aware that the reams of red tape are putting the brakes on economic activity. However, they are unaware of the mammoth financial loss inflicted on the state economy: Nine major investment projects, most by foreign companies, worth over 1.5 billion euros (that is about 1 percent of GDP) have been pending for almost a decade. The economic size of the investment projects currently blocked by red tape reinforces calls for a radical overhaul of the stifling legal and bureaucratic barriers. Businesses are surrounded by an ocean of paperwork as dozens of permits are still needed for a single investment. Note that under the existing legal framework, it allegedly takes up to 19 months to secure one of these permits (the specific document is issued by the Public Works Ministry). The successful experience of hosting the Summer Olympic Games showed that the political administration works better and more swiftly under pressure – and we should not forget that in that case, the state was paying the bill. It goes without saying that all these complex legal requirements and procedures end up bestowing powers on many different bodies within the state and the local administration, hence allowing the spread of shady dealings and corruption. Cutting some of the red tape is a much-needed tonic for businesses and investment.