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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-12-14

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

CONTENTS

  • [01] Opposition walks out during tax bill debate

  • [01] Opposition walks out during tax bill debate

    The opposition parties on Thursday walked out of the last day of the debate on the government's tax bill in Parliament, in protest over amendments concerning the privatisation of Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation (OTE) and a development map for Greek regions.

    Their objections were centred on both the contents of the two amendments and their last-minute attachment to the tax bill without any previous discussion at committee level, even though they concerned highly controversial and important issues.

    Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou stressed that the sale of OTE should not take place and said that his party will "block these unacceptable manoeuvres and investigate all their aspects".

    "This course will be reversed. The state must have a decisive role in OTE," he underlined.

    Papandreou also levelled criticism against Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki for allowing the government to undermine Parliamentary procedure by introducing issues that should be central to Parliamentary debate as secondary amendments but stressed that primary responsibility lay with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis "who is always hiding".

    He accused the government of rushing the amendment through because it was serving hidden interests and its actions would not hold up to scrutiny, saying its plan was to quickly sell off OTE to private interests without ensuring that the country's interests were protected, so that OTE was converted from "a strong regional player to a small subsidiary of a foreign organisation".

    According to PASOK MP Dinos Rovlias, meanwhile, the main opposition party did not consider itself bound by the decisions of the present government:

    "In a few months we will have a new Parliament and a new government. The potential buyers should keep this in mind," he said, while also raising questions of telecoms security through concession of the state's share in OTE to the private sector.

    Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Antonis Skyllakos said OTE's sale was a "crime that began under PASOK and is being completed under [ruling] New Democracy", while Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology president Alekos Alavanos also underlined his party's opposition to the planned privatisation.

    Responding to PASOK's criticism, Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis accused Papandreou of giving a "recital of unreliability" and said that PASOK decided to depart from the debate after finding itself exposed for criticising a policy that it had itself attempted as a government in 2000 but failed to follow through, despite paying handsomely for consultants to handle the process.

    The minister rejected arguments that the government was undermining Parliament by tabling the issues as amendments, accusing PASOK of undermining democratic debate even further through its decision to walk out.

    He also denied that there were any objections to the planned privatisation from Environment Minister George Souflias or that the government's plan was to sell all the state share in OTE.

    "We will proceed with a strategic partner, if one is found, because this is not an easy process and we will naturally ensure that the interests of shareholders and national security are protected," Alogoskoufis added.

    At another point in his speech, the finance minister said that the main opposition's threat to reverse the sale or cancel agreements with prospective strategic partners was a bluff.

    "We saw what [PASOK] did in the past," Alogoskoufis noted, recalling a pre-election pledge by PASOK to make OTE a single-share company before the party proceeded to sell successive tranches of OTE shares after 1997, for a total of five billion euros.

    Papandreou slams development amendment, tax reforms

    The main opposition leader's criticism also extended to the development map amendment tabled by the government, which he said signalled the failure of ND's policies and that it was now abandoning efforts for regional convergence.

    "The investments were only on paper," he said, claiming that government policy in this area had brought negligible results.

    Regarding reforms to the taxation system, Papandreou said that those actually benefiting were those with the highest incomes, while those earning between 12,000 and 25,000 euros a year were paying an additional 200 euros in tax.

    He accused the government of fearing elections and rushing to make good on outstanding deals with specific interests, though not its pledges to the electorate.

    Earlier in the day, a Parliamentary majority approved the tax bill in principle on the first reading in a roll-call vote requested by 15 PASOK MPs, with 156 ruling New Democracy MPs voting in favour and all 117 opposition MPs present voting against.

    Roussopoulos on PASOK walk-out

    Commenting on PASOK's decision to walk out of the debate from Brussels, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that the main opposition, after selling off 62% of OTE, was now "hiding behind anti-Parliamentary behaviours".

    He accused PASOK of "refusing dialogue because it lacked arguments and was ignorant of the fundamental principle of democracy, which is that of majority rule".


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