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Timetable of MGI bill in doubt

All smiles for Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou as she presents her scheme to parliament's Labour committee

By Angelos Anastasiou

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou’s fight to have the Minimum Guaranteed Income (MGI) scheme up and running by July 1 so applications can be received and processed by the ministry stumbled on Tuesday as the House Labour committee raised concerns over certain provisions of the bill.

The committee convened to discuss the fast-tracked MGI bill, which was approved by the Council of Ministers last week, but from 9am to 1pm they only managed to tackle two out of the bill’s 40 articles.

Emilianidou told lawmakers that the bill does not abolish handouts but merely seeks to create a central database that will help monitor and control government aid recipients.

“The reason behind the reservations voiced eludes me,” she said. “If the reservation is that we can’t have a single database for all allowances, then I am sorry to disagree.”

But the issue of finding the additional €25 million the MGI scheme is going to cost relative to the current system for the remaining six months of 2014 – and the additional €50 million annually from 2015 – also raised objections.

“The government has yet to answer the question of where the additional €50 million a year will come from, since the updated Troika programme calls for fiscal neutrality in its implementation,” said AKEL’s Andreas Fakontis, chairman of the Labour committee.

Emilianidou had repeatedly pledged that no taxation or cuts to existing allowances will be required, reasoning that in a government budget exceeding €5 billion it would not be hard to find €25 million, but Fakontis seemed unconvinced.

“The government’s argument that the cost will be covered by savings in other social allowances leads us to conclude that significant cuts and further shrinking of the social welfare state are on the way,” he said. “As AKEL, we express serious concerns.”

Meanwhile, AKEL plans to introduce a number of amendments to the bill, as it does not “meet the public’s expectations.”

“The level of the allowance [€480 a month] is sufficient for survival not decent living, as we were promised,” Fakontis said.

According to Fakontis, AKEL will propose the exemption of pensioners from the scheme, so that they remain under the existing pensioners’ support scheme, with only those who stand to benefit applying for the MGI.

The removal of clauses linking property ownership to MGI eligibility – those in possession of property valued in excess of €100,000 or a home larger than 150m² (300m² for families) are not eligible – will also be proposed.

A final proposal by AKEL will be to transform several of the decrees included in the bill into regulations as “excessive powers given to a Minister is cause for concern and should be avoided.”

The objections voiced by AKEL towards the bill drew criticism from deputy government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos. In a written statement, Papadopoulos accused AKEL of “playing party politics with a truly radical overhaul.”

But the short time available to deputies for discussion of the bill, the proposed amendments and the sheer volume of articles to be reviewed may put at risk Emilianidou’s request to have the bill brought to the plenum by next Thursday.

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