OPINION

Clear message

By imposing a 30-million-euro fine on Intracom, the telecommunications equipment-maker, officials at Greece’s Merchant Marine Ministry merely did what they had to do. The process is clearly stated in the contract that was signed by both sides. The penalty is a big one – but so are the contract violations. The National Vessel Traffic Management and Information System, a project awarded to Intracom by the aforementioned ministry, should have been completed by December 29, 2001. Instead, it was finished on September 1 of this year and was found to be full of serious problems. Nevertheless, the Intracom fine sparked a furor and a wave of orchestrated attacks aimed at Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis. The reason is easy to see. The business cronies of the former Socialist administration, which for years had monopolized the bulk of state contracts, now have to get used to different treatment. Even with huge delays, these firms were given extra time to complete the projects. Furthermore, state officials would turn a blind eye to errors and omissions on the grounds that their publication could prompt EU calls to return funds. In cases where companies really crossed the line, they would perhaps be asked to pay some minor fine – aimed at maintaining the pretext, not protecting public interest. Such chronic tolerance bred a sick mentality. The major contractors knew they could bet on the state’s impunity. For their part, many state officials made sure to capitalize on their generosity. Meanwhile, the companies that kept clear of shady dealings with the political establishment did not dare call for penalties against wrongdoers. The political context left no room for groans. As a result, the obvious has come to be seen as a revolutionary act. Intracom has been punished because the political context has changed. Merchant Marine Ministry officials realize their hands are not tied by politicians. The Intracom fine carries great political weight. It sends the message that from now on offenses will be punished with the mandatory fines. It’s something that should have taken place long ago. Despite the delay, it will help the government in its efforts to clean up this sleaze-ridden system and protect public interest. It is also a step forward in the fight against political and business entanglement.