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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-02-25
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM orders deep cuts in state spendingAddressing his Cabinet on Wednesday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis stressed the need to eliminate wasteful public sector spending so that the Greek economy might weather the global economic crisis. Presenting ministers and deputy ministers with a 12-point plan for trimming state spending, he stressed the need for full cooperation and steely determination in order to attain the twin objectives of supporting growth without jeopardising fiscal stability.
"Absolute fiscal discipline is needed by all ... no delays or oversights in the initiatives decided can be tolerated," the premier said. He also underlined that there were no "magic solutions" for dealing with the crisis and that dogmatism - whether statist ideologies or neoliberal obsessions - could not provide the answer.
"When the crisis creates new and different needs, new and different measures are required," he noted.
Summarising the impact of the global crisis on Greece, Karamanlis said that its repercussions were affecting the country increasingly strongly, with immense pressure on growth, employment and public finances.
This created a need to increase state spending on growth and welfare needs, while at the same time creating an opposite need to restrict spending in order to preserve fiscal stability.
"Our economy does not allow us to do the things that we want, to the degree that we want them," the premier stressed, adding that the government was now concerned with how to weather this storm with the fewest possible losses.
Karamanlis underlined that a fundamental priority was to maintain growth, even at low rates, and use every means possible to ensure that the economic forecasts fulfilled were those of the government rather than the European Commission, as had occurred in the past.
Listing the measures taken to support sectors stricken by the crisis, he emphasised that the ministers involved had made a commitment to fully and immediately implement the decisions he had made in this direction.
The premier then referred to public works being carried out throughout the country, saying that they constituted the largest infrastructure programme that Greece had ever known, while underlining that all ministries must activate EU programmes related to their brief and that everything must be done even more quickly than before.
Turning to the need for fiscal reform, Karamanlis said that his government had inherited an oversize public debt that had to be reduced and he called on all ministries to respond to this need.
"Absolute fiscal discipline by all is demanded and I am categorical about this. We have outlined specific actions and in these actions there is no room for delays or oversights," Karamanlis emphasised.
Outlining the 12 measures for reducing spending, Karamanlis called for the following:
1. Mandatory collaboration by all ministries with the government's general secretariat in order to immediately begin the abolition and merger of state-sector organisations and enterprises, which now number in excess of 1,000. The premier called for immediate results, within the next four months.
2. A 10 percent reduction by all ministries in elastic spending, by itself expected to save 500 million euros.
3. Strict adherence by all ministries supervising public utilities to the plan for public sector reform.
4. Freezing state-sector recruitments, except in health and education.
5. A 10 percent reduction in the cost of temporary contracts and project contracts signed by the state during 2009.
6. That the relevant ministries take charge of enforcing legislation for the control of spending by local authorities, hospitals and social insurance funds.
7. That an integrated system for health-sector procurements be fully activated.
8. That the ministries responsible speed up the process to computerise procedures for controlling the writing of prescriptions.
9. Closer cooperation by all ministries with the national economy ministry in order to create a single service to pay the salaries of civil servants.
10. The immediate introduction of a maximum ceiling on executive salaries in the broader public sector, equal to the salary of a ministry general secretary. "Anyone that doesn't agree can go home," the premier added.
11. Reducing the costs of bureaucracy by 25 percent.
12. Further enhancing controls against tax evasion.
Apart from the above measures, Karamanlis emphasised the need to sharply crack down on graft, incompetence and corruption whenever this appeared, calling on ministers to constantly monitor the agencies under their supervision.
"There can be no tolerance for phenomena of inefficiency, or inadequacy or negligence. Sources of corruption that are found should be mercilessly rooted out. Take additional measures today, not tomorrow," he exhorted members of his government.
Finally, he called on ministers to cooperate more closely with MPs and avoid creating bad impressions and disappointing citizens over secondary issues, adding that any form of internal bickering was unthinkable.
Summing up, Karamanlis underlined that dealing with the repercussions of the global crisis was a "national target" in which "no one can be left behind".
"In the face of a national goal there is no room for either party, or electoral or personal ambitions. There is no room for other priorities and other thoughts," he stressed.
Caption: ANA-MPA file photograph of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
 Moody's revises outlook for Greek bondsMoody's Investors Service on Wednesday revised the outlook of Greek state bonds to stable from positive, rating Greek government bonds to A1.
Moody's Sovereign Risk Group's vice-president Arnaud Mares said "the change in outlook reflects Moody's view that the Greek government's credit rating is adequately justified at A1 and that it is not possible an upgrading within the next 12 to 18 months".
Moody's acknowledged that a synchronized global downturn has burdened the Greek economy, as other advanced economies, with growth freezing and the percentage of public debt reversing a declining trend prevailing in previous years. "However, Greece is affected to a smaller extent until today, compared with several other countries of similar credit rating," Mares underlined.
Moody's analysts stressed that although the general government's debt was still high, private sector debt was smaller compared with other advanced economies.
 Titan Group reports lower 2008 resultsTitan Group on Tuesday said its pre-tax, interest and amortisation earnings (EBITDA) fell by 11 pct last year to 380 million euros, while net profits dropped 13 pct to 208 million euros and earnings per share eased to 2.53 euros, down from 2.84 euros per share in 2007.
The group said turnover rose 5.0 pct to 1.578 billion euros and noted that turnover would have grown by 8.0 pct and EBITDA would have fallen by 10 pct if measured on fixed currency exchange rates.
Titan Group attributed its lower results to a continuing collapse of demand for building materials in the United States, to a decline in cement consumption in Greece and sky-rocketing solid fuel prices.
The group's board will seek shareholders' approval for a plan to pay a 0.42-euro per share dividend, down 44 pct from 2007.
 Parliament to get advance notice of draft bills after March 30In a letter sent to all ministers and deputy ministers on Wednesday, Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas reminded them of their new obligation to give Parliament advance notice of upcoming draft legislation that they intend to table for discussion.
Sioufas explained that under the modified Parliamentary regulations introduced in June 2008, ministers are now required to inform the relevant standing committee in Parliament about their intention to table draft legislation, outlining its general framework and intent, at least two days prior to the session at which it will be discussed.
The obligation extends to draft bills that are laid open to public debate, on which Parliament should be notified as a priority so that the role of Parliamentary committees is enhanced and MPs properly and promptly informed.
The new rules come into force after March 30, as decided by the Parliament president, and seek to upgrade the relationship between legislative and executive power.
 Trade deficit up 14.4% in '08Greece's trade deficit widened by 14.4 pct in 2008 to 41.032 billion euros, from 35.867 billion euros in the previous year, the National Statistics Agency said on Wednesday. The statistics agency, in a report said the trade deficit, excluding oil products, rose by 1.377 billion euros, or 4.6 pct in 2008. The value of import-arrivals totaled 58.365 billion euros in the January-December 2008 period, from 53.006 billion euros in 2007, for an increase of 10.1 pct, while excluding oils the increase was 4.0 pct, or 1.779 billion euros. The value of export-deliveries grew 1.1 pct to 17.333 billion euros last year, from 17.139 billion euros in 2007, while excluding oils the rise was 2.7 pct or 401.9 million euros.
The trade deficit fell 18.6 pct in December to 2.240 billion euros, from 2.752 billion euros in December 2007, while excluding oils, the deficit fell by 5.4 pct or 124.2 million euros.
 TIR drivers suspend mobilisationsStriking long-haul truck drivers lifted blockades of customs posts and border crossings across Greece late on Tuesday, following a decision by the Federation of International Transports (TIR) truck drivers (OFAE) to suspend mobilisations, during a meeting in Thessaloniki.
The customs posts at Evzoni and Doirani, in northern Greece, as well as the border crossing of Promahonas and the seaports of Patras, Igoumenitsa and Corinth were blockaded by lorries and other large vehicles for six days with protesting truckers blocking access to other vehicles transporting goods allowing, however, passage to private cars and tourist coaches.
The mobilisations were suspended following separate meetings between OFAE representatives and officials of the ministries of finance and transport, and after a decision was reached to proceed with the drawing up of a draft law tightening checks by joint inspection teams.
Furthermore, local governments in prefectures bordering neighbouring countries and the managements of the three major seaports were notified to intensify checks at the country's entry and exit points, in order to better monitor and prevent illegal migrants from boarding and hiding in trucks.
Caption: ANA-MPA file photo.
 Gov't axes banks' dividend payoutThe government on Wednesday tabled an amendment in Parliament restricting dividend payments by domestic banks participating in a government-sponsored 28-billion-euro programme to boost liquidity in the Greek economy.
Under the amendment, tabled by the economy and finance ministry, participating banks will not be allowed to pay a cash dividend to shareholders, but only shares that will not be the result of share buy-back schemes. The amendment also envisages that return of preferred stocks issues to foreign investors will be exempted from the restriction.
Banks participating in the plan are also not allowed to launch share buy-back programmes, while they are given an extension -- until May 19, 2009 -- to reach general shareholders meetings' decisions over share capital increase schemes.
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