Counting the cost

The data presented yesterday by Deputy National Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas on the 2004-related budget overruns exceeded the most pessimistic predictions concerning the extent of economic mismanagement during preparations for the Athens Olympics. As we have often noted on this page, the construction of venues and infrastructure projects for the Summer Olympic Games was seen by a small elite as a way of making easy money at the expense of the public purse. The true picture now proves even grimmer than these ominous forecasts. The Olympic price tag is exorbitant. The cost of the baseball, softball and hockey stadiums at the Hellenicon venue soared from 32 million euros to 200 million. The cost of the equestrian center surged from 22.6 million euros to 110 million. As for the Olympic Stadium, because of the new roof structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the cost skyrocketed to a stunning 399 million from the mere 9 million that had been earmarked for its construction. The huge discrepancy between initial forecasts and the final costs is due to two separate factors which, however, lead to a single conclusion: a disregard for public money and an attempt to sweep the question of budget overruns under the carpet. A key reason for all this is the lack of any serious planning before the Games and the deliberate understatement of projected costs in Greece’s bid for them. Although original forecasts did not take into account the Calatrava-designed additions to the Olympic complex, one could not have reasonably expected that the Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of the Games, could be refurbished at the cost of a scant 9 million euros. It seems more plausible that the costs were recklessly estimated or, in fact, intentionally lowballed so as to ward off public complaints. A second reason for the hefty price tag was the huge delays especially in the early stages of preparations, the government inconsistencies, the repeated shake-ups among Athens 2004 officials, and the procrastination in dealing with legal snags. These were all extremely time-consuming, inviting direct assignments of projects, lack of transparency and a frenzied pace in completing the works. It was no surprise that the Olympic bill went through the roof. This is not merely an accounting game but hot money taken from Greek taxpayers’ pockets. It explains why public debt rose and why the country was slapped with austerity measures. Whether it’s about the negligence and the miscalculations by Greek officials during the initial forecasts or the subsequent increase in construction costs, one can only fume at those who effortlessly spent huge amounts of money from the state coffers without any consideration for the needs of the people.

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