Cash-strapped Greece wrangles with creditors, PM faces grilling

  • AFP, Athens
  • Updated: Mar 30, 2015 20:21 IST

Cash-strapped Greece wrangled on Monday with its creditors over a new package of reforms needed to unlock vital bailout funds as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prepared to face grilling in parliament on the negotiations.

Experts from the IMF and the EU are scrutinising a list of proposed reforms that Athens says would raise an extra three billion euros ($3.3 billion) for government coffers without resorting to wage and pension cuts.

But European sources accused Athens of holding up progress in the negotiations, while at home, the opposition has levelled the same charge at Tsipras's government.

Opposition MPs are expected to take Tsipras to task when parliament sits later Tuesday.

They have accused the prime minister of selling out on his election promises, claiming that he has secretly conceded austerity reforms in order to unlock 7.2 billion euros in aid funds by the end-April deadline.

Tsipras's government has proposed to levy higher taxes on the rich, as well as measures to tackle tax evasion and illegal fuel and cigarette smuggling.

But a European source told news portal that Greece's proposals still had to be fleshed out, and that "amateurism" by Greek officials was hindering progress.

Junior finance minister Dimitris Mardas on Monday said however that the creditors were pushing for lower pensions and more mass layoffs -- measures which the radical government has pledged to resist.

"The issue of mass layoffs is under debate...this is a red line and we cannot cross are pensions," he told To Vima radio.
The EU and IMF are also pushing the radical government elected in January to abandon its plans to block a number of key privatisations.

But Mardas insisted that Athens would now no longer "sell its assets at humiliating prices."

Privatisation U-turn?
The government's stance on privatisations has caused significant confusion, with some ministers favouring asset sales and others dead set against it.

Over the weekend, there was an apparent split in the cabinet after the deputy prime minister suggested that Greece would go ahead with plans to privatise a key port despite earlier pledges by the new government to scrap the sale.

During a visit to China last week, deputy prime minister Ioannis Dragasakis said a controversial privatisation of the Piraeus port authority would be completed "within weeks," state agency Xinhua reported.

This would mark a change in policy, as the government in January had clearly pledged to halt the privatisation of Piraeus, one of the largest ports of the Mediterranean.

Chinese shipping giant COSCO already has a 35-year concession managing the two main container terminals at Piraeus, and is keenly interested in a management role at the harbour too.

Dragasakis told Xinhua: "COSCO is an active participant (in the bid) and it can make a very competitive offer."

But the shipping minister Theodoros Dritsas quickly insisted that the government's position on the issue was unchanged.

"These reports do not confirm a change in policy," Dritsas told Greek state agency ANA on Saturday.

For the conservative New Democracy party that was previously in power, the episode is yet another example of how the Syriza government is wasting time.

"All this shows investors that they are not dealing with a serious country," former administrative reform minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Vima FM. "If (the government) continues to make their life difficult, they will look elsewhere."

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