OPINION

‘Magnanimous’ public works

Public prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki has filed away the brief on the Attiki Odos. The investigation she was assigned to after press reports of major overspending in the highway’s construction led her to conclude that from the legal point of view, the contract for the construction of the Attiki Odos had been properly executed. As for the terms of the contract, Touloupaki noted that the contract had been ratified by Parliament and therefore «by definition» was in accordance with the law. Having said that, Touloupaki can also be said to have performed a hat trick. According to her finding, the contract is «magnanimously» at the state’s expense. A «magnanimous deal» is one in which only one side stands to gain and the other assumes the burden of risk. The terms of the Attiki Odos contract are such that the revenue the contractors can expect to earn will clearly be way above their expectations. Naturally that is not a matter for the public prosecutor, but as this prosecutor has stressed, the state should ascertain when the contractors have had sufficient return on their investments so toll fees can be reduced, revenue devolved to the state, or else a special reserve be set up. The observation made by this member of the judiciary is timely. Members of the government have unofficially raised the issue, pointing out that the highway is being used by far more vehicles that was originally estimated, bringing in much more revenue, so the return on the investment should be completed all the sooner. Perhaps the toll fees should be reduced. The problem is that – officially – the toll fees have been raised and every now and then another possible increase is discussed. The problem is not restricted to the Attiki Odos but to all self-financed projects under the new framework established by the government. It is a felicitous initiative, but the buy-operate-transfer (BOT) method should nevertheless include barriers. The fact that a project proves so successful that people accept higher tolls and use it more than expected does not mean that it should be a gold mine for the investors. Because no matter how well people are served by it, it is still too expensive and the state is losing revenue. A balance must be found. The contractors have to have a return on their investment, but the cost to the people (or the loss to the state) should be within reasonable limits.