The government is aware of the injustices created by the concession contracts for the construction of new national highways and examining ways of correcting these through a renegotiation of the contracts, Prime Minister George Papandreou said in Parliament on Friday. At the same time, he stressed that lawlessness and refusing to pay road tolls were not a solution.
The prime minister was replying to a question tabled by the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alexis Tsipras, who had referred to the "criminalisation of the civil disobedience movement over the road tolls".
Tsipras accused Papandreou of rushing to appease contractors in fear that they would turn against the government.
"We had to wait a year for the loan contract between the country and the IMF but just a handful of days after contractors convened, you rushed to turn into action their wish that the civil disobedience movement be criminalised," he noted.
Papandreou, in his reply, admitted that some 'interests' were still living off the contracts of the previous era but stressed that these would be the last because the government had set up an authority to ensure transparency in public contracts. He also stressed that the government was attempting to 'salvage' the bad contracts signed by the previous government so that the projects concerned might be carried out, while criticising the Left for encouraging people to act without regard for rules and law.
"There are contracts that are not to our liking. But they were signed by a Greek government and the Greek State has put its signature to them, with international companies. If the contracts lapse [the Greek state] will pay penalties and our country's credibility will be damaged," he added.
He agreed with Tsipras that the agreements were problematic, however, with citizens paying tolls for roads not yet built and local population paying "in ways not proportionate to their movements"."We recognise this and are seeking solutions within the bounds of our legal and financial capabilities, in order to arrive at better solutions in the framework of renegotiations. But we will not accept that the solution is lawlessness," Papandreou stressed.
Civil disobedience to arbitrary and unfair rules was a "social right", Tsipras countered and stressed that the 'freeloaders' were those demanding tolls for projects in which they had made a minimal contribution.
"Society is in a marginal state. You will be sending citizens to jail for 2.5 euros at road tolls and 1.4 euros in public transport, when the cost of the fares for a wage earner will amount to one month's wages a year," Tsipras added, pointing out that the main parties had only days ago exonerated themselves completely for the Siemens scandal, even where there was proof that money had changed hands.
Replying, the prime minister said that the government was seeking a solution to protect low-income groups on the issue of public transport fares, to the extent possible, while trying to keep public transport in the state sector.
In an amendment tabled as a rider on Friday, the government has converted refusal to pay road tolls into a traffic violation that carries a fine of 200 euros and other penalties, while not paying fares on public transport has been made a misdemeanour offence.