Bureaucratic obstacles and residents’ difficulty in proving ownership of their homes have delayed the distribution of compensation to victims of last summer’s wildfires in Greece.
Residents who lost their homes in last summer’s wildfires have yet to receive a cent of the 162 million euros set aside for the reconstruction of fire-ravaged villages.
A combination of bureaucratic obstacles and delays in government inspections has meant that only 18 out of an expected 1,000 applications for compensation are being processed at the Centres for Fire Victim Compensation in the Peloponnese – all for partial reconstruction of damaged houses. And of these, no application is believed to be complete.
According to the prefect of Ileia, the worst-affected area of the Peloponnese, the public works and town planning ministry engineers have yet to complete the task of surveying the buildings destroyed last August.
“It is most complicated for those looking for total rebuilding [of a burned house or building] because the ministry has not yet completed the inspections,” Prefect Haralambos Kafyras told the Athens News. “But even then, just as for those seeking compensation for partial reconstruction, many applicants do not yet have civil engineering plans and the authorisation of these plans by town planning officers. There are multiple problems. Not a euro has made its way to any of the families who lost their homes.”
Petros Molyviatis, the veteran diplomat and former foreign minister who is heading the state run emergency relief fund for fire victims, said that more than 150 of the 162 million euros amassed from donors would be released as soon as applications are approved.
However, the only money to leave the emergency fund’s account so far is the 2.7 million euros allocated for anti-flooding works around Ancient Olympia and emergency support for farmers in the aftermath of the fires.
Molyviatis added that complications had arisen because some destroyed buildings were located on forestland and were, therefore, illegal. Furthermore, in the absence of a land registry, many residents do not possess title deeds.
A legal amendment was being rushed through, he said, to allow people to prove ownership through a statutory declaration witnessed by two other residents. In addition, he warned against the over-hasty release of funds as the 92,000 donors who contributed the money, he said, are entitled to a detailed account showing how the money is being spent legally and prudently.
More than 4,000 buildings, including barns and stables, are believed to have been partially or completely destroyed by fire last summer across the Peloponnese and Evia.
Pantazis Chronopoulos, mayor of Zaharo, said that after the intervention of Molyviatis and town planning ministry general secretary Dimosthenis Katsiyannis the issue of proving ownership and other problems have now been “resolved”.
“Whoever submits a complete application will receive compensation,” he told this newspaper. “The [homeless] residents in the municipality are being well looked after in converted containers that have televisions, kitchens and bedrooms.”
He added that Artemida and Makisto, villages virtually gutted by the fires, were being rebuilt by financing from the Cypriot government and the shipowning Vardinoyannis family. Companies representing both parties, he said, had progressed with applications for the reconstruction of 145 buildings in these villages.
“It is a process that is starting now,” Chronopoulos said. “As far as private applications, there have only been 18 in Ileia so far and none of these is complete as they do not include a breakdown of costs.”
An employee at the Centre for Fire Victim Compensation in Pyrgo, the largest town in Ileia, confirmed this number and added that not a single completed application has been submitted for complete reconstruction. He stressed, however, that inspectors were “progressing well” with the task of assessing properties that residents were claiming to be destroyed.
“The process is not being helped by local civil engineers being reluctant to take on work because [Public Works and Town Planning Minister] George Souflias has requested that civil engineers charge only 50 percent of their usual fee,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “Added to that, this money needs to be paid immediately – before residents have received compensation.”
Compensation of up to 90,000 euros is to be paid per building (750 euros per square metre for the reconstruction of houses up to 120 square metres) and handed directly to residents in three instalments, the first on completion of a successful application and the following two once inspections of the ongoing works have been made.
The source added that, in any event, the finance ministry has not yet approved the release of money from the emergency relief fund. The official in charge of the relevant department in the finance ministry was unavailable to comment on this claim.