In a Greek junkyard, signs red tape defeating cuts

Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:44am EDT
 
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By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - In a sprawling yard in Athens, a yellow Porsche rusts among dusty motorcycles, police cars with bullet holes and wrecked city buses - a telling image of one Greek government agency's slide into bureaucratic quagmire.

Known by its Greek acronym ODDY, the Organisation for Public Property Management ran warehouses nationwide that auctioned off anything from old sofas discarded from city hall waiting rooms to luxury cars confiscated from drug dealers.

Now, efforts to consign ODDY itself to the scrapheap, along with its loss-making payroll costs, show just how hard it is for the Greek government to satisfy foreign creditors' demands that it shut down dozens of state agencies to save money; it may say it is waging war on red tape, but the red tape may be winning.

Set up to offload army surplus after World War Two, ODDY began showing losses a decade ago, squeezed by competition while maintaining dozens of employees on staff. So when some 50 state entities were slated for closure in 2011, ODDY was on the list.

More than a year later, it has indeed been wound up. A ministerial decree in November announced ODDY no longer existed, and the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which are keeping Greece afloat on condition it slashes costs, duly noted in March that the required cuts had been legislated for.

But that is all on paper. Employees and government officials who spoke to Reuters have revealed that ODDY still exists in all but name, for as DDDY - no longer an Organisation, but now a Directorate - it has simply become an office of the Greek Finance Ministry. And while staffing has been cut, many costs have simply transferred from wages to pensions, and the shake-up has all but paralyzed its ability to run auctions to make money.

The workforce has been halved since the debt crisis erupted in 2009 and the wages of those remaining have been cut. But as many who left simply retired and took a pension, the state may have saved little overall; meanwhile revenues, disrupted by a shunt into legal limbo, have tumbled, and assets, like that yellow roadster, gather dust in silent yards across Greece.

"I feel disappointed. This is not what we dreamed of," said George Chronopoulos, who retired last month aged 61 after 37 years working for ODDY as a valuer, mainly for cars, at the agency's Athens warehouse, one of its four main sites.   Continued...

 
A cameraman films confiscated cars in a yard of ODDY, the Public Property Management Organisation, in Athens September 5, 2012. In a sprawling yard in Athens, a yellow Porsche rusts among dusty motorcycles, police cars with bullet holes and wrecked city buses - a telling image of one Greek government agency's slide into bureaucratic quagmire. Known by its Greek acronym ODDY, the Organisation for Public Property Management ran warehouses nationwide that auctioned off anything from old sofas discarded from city hall waiting rooms to luxury cars confiscated from drug dealers. Picture taken September 5, 2012. REUTERS/John Kolesidis