Greek Prime Minister underlines commitment to ‘principles, values’; Papandreou calls for early elections; Magginas replaces Tsitouridis as new welfare minister
Athens.- Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Saturday announced the replacement of embattled Employment and Social Protection Minister Savvas Tsitouridis — who was at the centre of an ongoing furor regarding mismanagement of state-run pension funds’ reserves — following a latest high-profile press report that a close ministry aide is being investigated for his role during the 1999-2000 stock market ‘bubble’.
“My decision is to not tolerate any actions or behaviours that harm the country or its citizens … we are continuing on the basis of our principles and values,” Karamanlis said during a televised appearance at his Maximos Mansion office.
Less than an hour later, the prime minister’s office announced that ruling New Democracy (ND) parliamentary spokesman Vassilis Magginas, a long-time parliamentarian that also served as the party’s spokesman in the mid 1990s, will be sworn in on Sunday to replace Tsitouridis.
A two-hour meeting preceded the announcement of Tsitouridis’ resignation on Saturday.
“When I assumed the responsibility of the country’s reins I wanted all Greek citizens to know that the prime minister and the government they chose will respect them, and demonstrate the same sensitivity towards all issues, big and small,” Karamanlis said, adding:
“From the very first moment I asked members of the government to show the same respect and to be very careful, both in terms of their political choices and in the selection of their associates … A continuing discussion has racked the country, following the revelation by the government itself over the purchase of a bond by the board of a fund without, apparently, the principle of political caution in the decision being respected. The boards of funds bear responsibility for their decisions, that is why, with the government’s initiative, we have decided to change the manner in which the members on of the board are selected,” Karamanlis stressed.
“We did not hide and we will not hide any problem under the rug, keeping our faith in the principles and values and our respect for the Greek citizen,” Karamanlis said, underlining the government’s initiative to transfer the responsibility for appointing pension funds’ board members to the Bank of Greece and the Capital Markets Commission.
A same-day report in the Athens daily “Kathimerini” revealed that the employment ministry’s general secretary, Evgenios Papadopoulos, is the subject of a judicial investigation due to his representation of an off-shore company allegedly involved in shady stock market transactions during the 1999-2000.
Saturday’s article was the latest in an avalanche of press scrutiny that also focused on Tsitouridis himself, in the wake of a controversial deal, and related financial terms, approved by the civil servants’ supplementary fund to purchase a structured bond.
In a later announcement, government spokesman and Minister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos said the swearing-in ceremony for Magginas is scheduled for Monday at noon.
Reaction to Saturday’s announcement by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of embattled Employment and Social Protection Minister Savvas Tsitouridis’ resignation was swift by the opposition, with main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou again renewing his call for early elections.
“The country has entered a period of prolonged (government) idleness. Mr. Karamanlis’ government has only one thing left to offer the country: the immediate recourse to a popular vote,” Papandreou, who travelled to Irakleio, Crete, on Saturday, said.
Papandreou, a former foreign minister, also referred to Karamanlis’ “complete weakness” in running the country, while charging that Tsitouridis’ ouster from the Cabinet served merely to protect the premier and other ministers from fallout over the bond affair.
In a written statement, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) stressed that “personal responsibilities cannot in any way ‘wash away’ the major political responsibilities that the government has over the continuing looting of workers’ pension funds. The Tsitouridis resignation, by itself, cannot under any circumstance be considered as a substantive development for workers, as long as policies and laws surrender their pension fund reserves to the plunder of stock brokers and bankers.”
On is part, the Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) party issued an announcement saying that “two months after the bonds scandal shocked public opinion, the government limits itself in only firing Mr. Tsitouridis as a way of covering up wider political liability, particularly by the (government’s) economic team … the prime minister is obliged to appear in Parliament and give public explanations and stop hiding, as he’s done over months now vis-à-vis questions tabled by Synaspismos.”