Louloudenia Kriki 20 • 11 • 2021

Concerns surround the establishment of the new governmental committee for major public works

Louloudenia Kriki
Concerns surround the establishment of the new governmental committee for major public works
20 • 11 • 2021

An overdue (and irrelevant) amendment from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport created a new government committee to oversee large-scale public works. The new Committee for the Coordination of Strategic Contracts (formerly the Government Major Works Committee – hereafter referred to as the Committee), will manage the allocation of the resources of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) and the European Recovery Mechanism, totaling over 50 billion euros.

On 13 May 2021, the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport submitted an  amendment (no. 876/153) to a Ministry of Finance bill incorporating European directives for the banking system into national law.  

In this case, the rules of good legislation were not observed. More specifically, because the amendment was tabled in the plenary just a few minutes before the bill was passed, and after all the speakers had already completed their interventions, no MP except those of the ruling party managed to present a position on the proposed legislation, which provoked strong dissatisfaction from the opposition, (see p53-55 of the Parliamentary minutes).

The Committee will oversee public procurement projects with budgets over 50 million euros, as well as some national or regional `flagship projects` of strategic importance with smaller budgets. It will also manage contracts financed from the resources of the NSRF (2021-2027) budget that are over 30 million euros, as well as contracts financed from the resources of the European Recovery Mechanism, regardless of budget.

The beneficiaries of these funds, in addition to ministries, regional authorities and companies within the umbrella of the Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations S.A. (HCAP), can be extended to any other body or agency by decision of this Committee.

Apart from the legislative and procedural issues, the essential content of the amendment, as well as the comments of the rapporteur raises concerns.

The rapporteur, the Minister of Infrastructure, Mr. Karamanlis, argued that the amendment ensures the existence of “specific control and safeguards” for contracts of strategic importance, emphasizing that in the past, whenever even one euro from European funds was used, there was a very tight scrutiny process (see p.54 of the parliamentary minutes). He stated: “We are putting in place a centralised process because […] in the near future, money will flow into our country from the Recovery Fund…” He added that the Committee will be under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s office (see p.55 of the parliamentary minutes). 

The ensuing reactions were intensely critical, with the Head of Infrastructure and Transport of SYRIZA, Mr. Nikos Pappas, commenting that the over-centralized Mitsotakis model raises concerns, especially so with this amendment giving the Prime Minister’s office direct control over EU funding resources.

The fact that many of the terms of the amendment are vague and open to interpretation, such as what constitutes a ‘flagship project’, as well as the wording around the Committee’s ability to include as a beneficiary any body or agency of their choosing, raises reasonable concerns about the possibility of arbitrariness and the possible impact of the amendment on the rule of law.

Note: The Committee met for the first time on November 8, 2021 and added 19 reforms and projects worth 2.5 billion euros into the National Development Program.

Where is the problem with the rule of law?

In a state governed by the rule of law, the substance of legislative provisions adopted must not cast doubt on the purpose the legislation serves. In the case of public procurement, transparency, integrity, clarity and decentralization are key principles that should be followed in order to avoid corruption and the distortion of competition.

The more these guarantees are shrunk, the greater the risk of these phenomena occurring. The transfer of responsibilities for public procurement to a more “central level,” as well as the lack of strict inclusion criteria raises concerns about possible over-centralization trends and potentially insufficient institutional counterbalances in managing state funds, casting doubt on the integrity of the rule of law.

Louloudenia Kriki
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