Kefalonia: “So far, 220 cruise ships have been canceled. How do we make ends meet in the winter? “
Theofilos Michalatos, mayor of Argostoli spoke to in.g
Revealing, true and without “caressing” ears, the mayor Michalatos, in the interview that follows, referred to what concerns the island without spins and second thoughts. Our discussion initially focused on the consequences of the pandemic: “It worries me because I see on the one hand a delay from the ministries and on the other hand the ambiguous positions of the European Commission I think will generally lead the country to difficult divisions. We are waiting but not very optimistic. We have to save the game, we will do what is possible and more, “he told us.
In our interview – among other things – the issue of waste management was raised on the occasion of the multi-bill of the Ministry of Environment, saying characteristically: “We will appeal to the court, we will refuse until the end to discredit that it was conquered from 1985 until today. We are a model for waste management on our islands, we are proud of that, we have never bothered the Greek state with such a problem and we will not allow ourselves to become a waste collection agency for other areas, because the promise given – orally – that such a thing will not happen it is vile and ambiguous. ”
The footprint of the pandemic for the island of Kefalonia in relation to local entrepreneurship what form will the mayor have? Did you take any additional measures to relieve the businessmen of the area?
The consequences of the pandemic for our island are negative and inevitably great and significant. This year, Kefalonia will be deprived – already deprived – of the arrival of thousands of tourists by cruise ships, this year they were scheduled to visit the island 200 – 220 cruise ships which have so far canceled their arrivals. But, as you know, the freezing of air flights also causes huge damage to the local economy! We live and revolve around tourism, there is concern and on the lips of all the factors of tourism the question is – how will we cope, what will we do in the winter, when a lost tourist season has mediated.
We are waiting for the relevant circular of the Ministry of Interior in order to receive similar initiatives for our beaches, for the food professions and in general for every affected activity. It worries me because on the one hand I find a delay on the part of the ministries and on the other hand the ambiguous positions of the European Commission I think will lead the country in general to difficult divisive situations. We are waiting but not very optimistic. We need to save the lot, we will do what is possible and more. Our island was not affected by the pandemic and its inhabitants believe that they have the maturity to receive visitors and protect them.
Do residents want foreign tourists on the island because of the pandemic?
Of course, we are hospitable, careful and we are waiting for the instructions of the competent services to apply them – as we have done so far – to the letter, and to take additional measures where necessary.
Are the health structures of Mr. Michalatos meeting the needs especially during the summer months when the world is multiplying – at least under normal conditions? Also, do you agree with a comprehensive decentralization of health services? In other words, to create integrated primary health units of the municipalities with their simultaneous contracting with the insurance system?
Our Prefectural Hospital in Argostoli, despite the shortages of medical and nursing staff, has covered and covers needs beyond its capabilities all these years! Unfortunately, the government reserved a misguided option in Kefalonia: With the donation of an individual (Vergotis Foundation), a new wing has been built at the Hospital, which was fully equipped for the operation of the ICU. We competed and asked for the necessary Medical and Nursing staff to operate, and in one night the equipment was loaded and transported to Rio for the ICU operating unit there. This happened in the first days of the pandemic.
We reacted immediately but due to the situation and the uncharted waters of the period we did not have a result at that time. We are committed to restoring all equipment. We will not be indifferent. We will continue our effort. Our municipality, individuals and other bodies such as the chamber, have offered in the middle of a pandemic respirators and sanitary material to support the health structures on our island and especially the heroic workers in them. We will insist on the operation of the ICU, it is unheard of to have a new modern wing and modern equipment and to be relocated elsewhere!
As for the creation of integrated primary health units in the municipalities, we could not be opposed, but caution is required. Not to transfer responsibility and responsibility to the municipalities without sufficient resources! Practical practice in the Greek state. Our trade unions, such as KEDE, also have a say here. It requires great care and thorough study, to fully ensure the resources and the possibility of hiring specialized and necessary staff.
We read in an official announcement of your municipality – signed by the mayors of Sami, Lixouri and Ithaca – your wish to exclude the Ionian Islands from no. 93 of the polynomial plan for the environment. You undoubtedly attracted the interest. What do you not want and what do you suggest?
Listen, I am not in opposition to the government, nor am I one of the people who is raising the bar of reactions for no serious reason. But in this case the multi-bill of the Ministry of Environment really underestimates us as a local government, mocks the local community and instead rewards an island that since 1985 all local authorities have supported and respected the choice (pioneer) to ensure the collection and management of His waste, with this law comes the government and transfers the property of our Institution, the management of our Planning and our Financing to manage it – without substance Our urban representation – a new body under the Ionian Islands Region. We respect,
The Ministry of Environment surprised us by submitting Article 93 not during the consultation of the multi-bill but at the last minute when the draft law went to Parliament. We mobilized IMMEDIATELY with unanimous decisions from all the collective bodies of the local government in the prefecture, the Regional Union of Ionian Islands Municipalities and KEDE asked to exclude the Ionian from the specific article. In vain!
However, as we have stated, we will not remain inactive: We will appeal to the court, we will refuse until the end to discredit that it was conquered from 1985 until today. We are a model for waste management on our islands, we are proud of that, we have never bothered the Greek state with such a problem and we will not allow ourselves to become a waste collection agency for other areas, because the promise that – orally given – that such a thing will not happen is dull and ambiguous.
As an island regional municipality, what are your main problems? Are the resources at your disposal sufficient, Mr. Michalatos?
We are the largest island in the Ionian Sea and one of the largest islands in the country. It is not a selfish report, but Kefalonia and the legendary Ithaca have a uniqueness and a beautiful change in their natural environment that have rightly been repeatedly ranked in the best pages and projections of international organizations and publications. Those who visit our islands are excited. All the authorities of the past have put their little stone to make things important and to contribute, together with the private sector, to good living conditions, enjoyment and destination. However, there are still many problems, for example the rapid development of cruising requires the expansion and creation of a new design of the port of Argostoli.
Our unique Culture and History are entitled to pioneers of new initiatives and choices. Road construction infrastructure needs to be supplemented and modernized. We work well with the Region. From the first day, our decimated services have been working tirelessly and preparing studies for the inclusion of important projects in the NSRF and other financial programs. In a few days we will present a new comprehensive traffic study for the city of Argostoli. In collaboration with the other municipalities of our islands, we are proceeding with the establishment of a Development Organization with the aim of modernizing and digitizing our municipal services, which we have delayed. We will run and I am sure that with the worthy collaborators and the daily work of our deputy mayors and the presidents of our legal entities, we will succeed.
The resources are never enough, especially now that municipal revenues are sinking due to the pandemic, the reason is for the central government to support it vigorously and we to use every resource.
Will the creation of the waterways that seem to have entered the final phase of creation, contribute to the development of your island?
Undoubtedly, yes, the experience of experimental operation years ago showed very good data. It will also contribute to the better communication of the islands of our region, which, as is well known, is not easy due to the distances of the islands. The island will benefit the most by attracting additional tourists, distances will be reduced.
What are the main projects you plan to do in your municipality and at what stage of maturation are they?
At all levels, the municipality needs significant interventions. After the disintegration of the single municipality of Kefalonia, the municipality of Argostoli as a metropolitan municipality and occupying the largest area of the island and the most populous is required to be on constant alert and to be effective in the problems of everyday life. We have been emphasizing since the first day we took over, we are doing well but always the enemy of good is the best. Important projects that we have studied and are studying – are addressed to:
a). In culture with the completion of the study of pr. building of the Bank of Greece intended for important cultural space of pan-Hellenic and international scope,
b). In the field of infrastructure, with the inclusion of the project of replacement of water supply networks by asbestos pipes in the remaining part of the city of Argostoli, but also in all the villages of the municipal units, where required, a project with a budget of 7 million euros.
c). Traffic Study for Argostoli is completed with applications of modern and pioneering parking control methods,
d). We intervene, utilizing the credits of the Philodimos program in the important and very touristy coastal zones of Skala, Katelio, etc.
e). Through the inter-municipal Port Fund we are planning and have submitted for approval the masterplan of the port of Argostoli,
g). We have requested the inclusion of municipal and rural road construction projects in the NSRF and we are preparing with method and diligence for the modernization of our municipality, the total digitization of its services. These in general, and an additional element: we attach special importance to social structures, to the Home Help program, to the reinstatement of food in our municipal Nursing Home as soon as possible in the modern building whose work has finally been completed.
Is the revenue mechanism of the municipalities sufficient to ensure the projected revenues? Then, do you think that with tax decentralization, with the return of ENFIA, the municipalities will be led to financial independence?
I have been involved with the Local Government for several years and I have participated in many of its conferences. All governments, the state, promise but very little has been done in the direction of economic independence of local authorities. It is a pathogenesis that requires perseverance, study, methodicalness and on the right terms claim on our part. The current government has announced the transfer of revenues from ENFIA to the T.A. It sounds perfect, but it must be perfect! If this is combined with piles of new unencumbered responsibilities and without effective performance and assurance controls it will fail. We, as organizations, have the floor, KEDE, but we must study the final design with care and perspicacity. With today’s data – especially for our divided municipality – our collection mechanism for the utilization of even existing revenues, combined with the inability to hire specialized staff, is insufficient. We try to “weave in the spider’s web” to improve the system to be fast and efficient.
Will it be good if the municipal authorities have direct access to financial instruments, investment schemes and the NSRF itself?
Look, in financial instruments autonomously or through Development Companies and more generally in the form of legal entities of the local government, many municipalities in our country have used and are pioneering. We are behind, as I said, we are preparing methodically and I estimate that we will soon have the appropriate mechanisms and capabilities. Now as far as the management of the (new) NSRF is concerned, because the current one is completing its cycle, the Greek state has essentially given it to the elected regional authorities. This is not a bad thing, but we need to look at more effective and short procedures and methods to take advantage of municipal proposals.
The trend of the season is the reduction of the energy footprint, the strengthening of the sustainable mobility, the reduction of the gas emissions. Will you also encourage how to harmonize with these modern global requirements?
Certainly. although because we are an island these “demands” are delayed to be perceived in the daily lives of our residents we must look ahead. Our motor equipment, for example, must be replaced by the use of electric motors. As a municipality, we have in mind, through special programs, to raise awareness and, above all, to inform the new generations in this direction. The sustainable environment and sustainable approach now require the use of new methods and tools, but above all we must learn and embrace new data in our daily lives.