ExtraMayor Leaves Third Term Option Open - The Complete Interview

The complete interview given to Christos Byron and Irini Gazi for The News of Symi newspaper in March 2009.
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Traffic congestion and noise pollution are among the more serious problems facing the island. Unfortunately, the measures taken or underway so far – e.g. the plan for underground parking in the square of Yialos – are for the finding of parking spaces and not for the reduction of road traffic via better and more frequent public transport. Is the Municipality considering this issue and if so, what do you plan to do about it?

Road traffic is certainly one of the biggest problems, especially the 15-20 motorbikes that cause noise pollution with their exhausts. I have repeatedly written to the Head of the Police in Rhodes about this and also to the Home Office and the local police here. There has also been a complaint by a group of citizens and the answer was that because of the increased traffic and work with illegal immigrants they are unable to get around to this big problem.

Mayor, it’s not just the motorbikes though, it’s also the traffic jams.

Traffic jams are caused mainly by a lack of infrastructure. When we say that the Square which will have underground parking, it may not solve the problem directly, but indirectly it does as all the cars that are parked illegally here and there about the perimeter of the harbour because there are no parking spaces, will be gathered together and the roads will open.

One of the building projects that are planned is the commercial jetty. If this happens and Proteas doesn’t moor by Hasapia but in Petalo, all the vehicles that go to Pedi or Horio will not go through Yialos at all.

As well as that, this year we have an extra weapon that I believe will work better - the Municipal Police. At the moment, we have them for 8 hours a day all year, but in return for not working the winter months, we are thinking of asking them to work for more hours in the Summer. They will be able to ensure that the traffic restriction zone works well and that cars are not parked illegally.

Are there any plans for better and more frequent public transport (buses, taxis)?

The necessary actions have been taken with the Prefecture authorities, because the Prefecture is the body responsible for issuing licenses for buses and taxis.

Who determines the working hours for the taxis?

The taxi-driver is obliged to serve the citizens 24 hours-a-day. Other than that, the Police check the taxi working hours.

So, it’s the Police who are responsible to ensure that everything stops at 20:30?

The Police should issue tickets and bring charges. I have asked for more taxi licenses but they are not issuing any more. The bus line is approved by the Prefecture and has a specific timetable. For the Yialos-Horio-Pedi line, the Prefecture issued two licenses for two buses but only one person came forward to take a license. Nobody could be found to take the other one. I have made a suggestion, and will also make it in writing to Panormitis Monastery, that the Monastery also has its own bus to serve the worshippers better.


There is a list of building projects that are currently underway on Symi. What is the timetable for completion of these projects?

These projects should have been finished already. The problem is that we live in Greece and Greece always causes problems. For a project to finish, three bodies have to help: the Municipality, the contractor and the State. If one of the three is not helpful the projects don’t finish. In other words, the building projects suffer in Symi either because of the contractor or the State. The timetable is not determined by the Municipality. The marina in Pedi was supposed to be finished in June, but it’s stopped. This problem has happened now with the State and the funds that were available from the EU because they gave the money away and it was used elsewhere - I don’t know when the work will finish. I ask a similar question to you…will they have finished the work next year when my 4-year term is finished?

Among the projects that are being planned but yet to start, which do you consider vital for Symi?

The first project that needs to happen right away so that the island changes its image and goes forward 100 years, is the commercial jetty which will start from Aktaion restaurant and go up to Petalo. The whole of Symi will become less congested. The study is ready - licensing is our problem.

The other project is the new building for the Hospital in Horio which will start at the end of the summer at the latest. Other than that is the “HYTA” (sanitary burying of waste) which will solve the problem of cleanliness. I think these three projects will change the setting in Symi.

What is happening with the wind turbine?

The wind turbine will be in place by the end of the month but we have had to go through the Passion of Christ with the bureaucracy during the past 5 years. For example, they were asking for 180,000 euros to move the wind-turbine to Symi and now, thanks to the Ministry of Defense, it will come for free with a tank landing ship. This only happened because Meimarakis (the Minister of Defense) came here last May, and we ate out together and got to know each other, and he has given this help.

Do you show the wind-turbines across the water to the politicians that come here, and do they know how quickly they have been installed?

32 wind turbines have been put up on the other side, but these must be privately owned… We may have been given a hard time because we haven’t bribed. The Municipality cannot bribe because all these belong to the Municipality. Symi is the only island in Greece at the moment where the Municipality has its own solar generator and a wind turbine. They are ours. They don’t belong to a private individual, nor is there a company with the Municipality owning shares. And imagine...850 KW that will be generated would be sold to the electricity company at 5 times the price of the electricity that you are buying… it will cover much of the Municipality’s needs.


There is no doubt that with HYTA a major chapter in the problem of hygiene will end. However, Symi offers a sad spectacle with the ruins full of rubbish. Does the Municipality plan to do something about this?

We are not happy with the state of cleanliness in the island, that’s for certain. The Municipality contracted out the gathering of rubbish to a company just because of the problem that when the collection vehicle breaks down we don’t have the means to have it repaired the next day. Most of the cleaning time we devote to Horio, especially in the ruins and small streets. In the past, it wasn’t like that. Then, each housekeeper in Horio used to sweep the whole area around her house. Now everyone is waiting for the Municipality. The Horio settlement is huge. They are waiting from the Municipality… it’s impossible.

Isn’t the owner responsible by law to clean his/her ruin?

Go after him… Where will you find him? When you do he says “it’s not mine” but when it’s to build on, it’s his! There is not enough personnel to do cleaning. Symi needs three people in Yialos, seven in Horio and at least two for the major roads. It needs 12-13 people spending their time solely with cleaning and white-washing. On the other hand our returns are very small. That is what it says in the DEH (Electricity) bill, that for the Municipality you pay that much - compared with other parts of Greece, we are 80% cheaper. That is, in a 100sqm house you pay 120 Euros a year. And who has a 100sqm house on Symi? For me to hire staff I need to have good returns. And I don’t… they are very small.


During the past months the area outside and around the Police Station in Yialos is often a disturbing sight with illegal immigrants sleeping for days on the floor until they are moved to Rhodes. Is there any provision from the Municipality to provide accommodation and food for these people while they are on Symi?

The illegal immigrants are a problem that I believe the State doesn’t want to solve. At the moment the State receives around €80 for each illegal immigrant from the EU. The sum of money they receive is a lot and this is the reason they don’t want to dissuade them from coming. We have made a proposal to build a shelter somewhere so that at least the illegal immigrants would not be on show until they leave.

Has the church ever offered to accommodate these people temporarily especially during the winter months?

This is a matter for the Police. The state is obliged to give €15 per person for accommodation and €8 for food every day. But this money doesn’t come to the Municipality... it’s with the local Police and the Port Authority.


How do you think the tourist season will go this year in the middle of the international economic crisis compared to previous years?

I believe it will go well again this year. 2007 was Symi’s best year in my opinion, and this year too will be a good one. What we all need to understand is that we must offer the right services, and most important of all, we must be well-mannered to customers with no bad attitude, despite a lack of specialised personnel.

Has the Municipality done anything different this year when it comes to the advertising campaign for Symi?

We have taken actions as well this year, we took part in exhibitions in Athens, Thessaloniki, Istanbul and Smyrna, but the problem is that there is no participation from the business owners like there is in other islands. The only exhibition where there was participation, was in Smyrna and both Kalodoukas and Sykallos were there. When you go to an exhibition, you make deals. If the business owners don’t go to make deals with other business owners, what is the point of us going to the exhibition? Just to distribute leaflets?

Does the Municipality ask that from the business owners though?

Yes, we've informed them for years. Last year we paid €15,000 for a TV commercial on ERT and asked the hotel owners to contribute and they told us that they only had €150 to give us. For us, the money that we can give according to the Regulator for leaflets is €15,000. Sometimes people expect the Municipality to do everything, but the Municipality can’t, it’s not its job. The State restricts the Municipality in the money it can spend and we do our best to at least have new leaflets and DVDs.

Business owners have never come to the Municipality to say to me, Mayor, we want to do this to promote Symi, No-one! We say that we're going to that exhibition and they should come too. We improve the leaflets on our own, we make DVDs on our own; there are no proposals from the hotel owners or business owners.

The day-trippers coming here should be promoting Symi, they should be our best advertisement, be we've failed; a committee could be set-up and funded by some people to provide tourists with at least some basic information when they come here, but there is nothing.

So, the promotion is done solely with Municipal funds? Isn’t there any funding from the Ministry of Tourism or EOT (Greek Tourist Board)?

No funding at all.

In Rhodes they have PROTOUR that the hotel owners pay and it does the advertising campaign. Everywhere the hotel owners contribute somehow. Here we are waiting; they shut the hotel, they go on holidays and wait for April and then say “there haven’t been people this year”. But how will that happen, by itself? With a website they created on the computer? They say “...but I have a site”! yet that alone is not enough…


What will happen with the Symi Festival this year?

The Festival will take place again this year. At the moment we only have one certain event with classical music from Austria that we have agreed with the Austrian Ambassador who I met a while ago.

Last year, we heard there was no funding for the Festival. Do you have any indication of what will happen this year?

At the moment we have gathered €15,000 from the Hellenic Parliament and €15,000 from the Ministry of Mercantile Marine. But people don’t give, it’s not like it used to be when there were sponsors so they get the publicity. Now, they don’t see the benefit. That is, the businesses that used to give in the past, now they prefer to spend €10-15,000 and issue 1,000 more leaflets or make a better website. Now, I‘m trying to see whether we can have a smaller, more commercial Festival but also a good quality one. The Festival is difficult now. It’s not like when it started when there were artists that haven’t been yet. Now almost all of them have been here, 2-3 times even!

Are there any fixed dates yet?

The way I see it, the Premiere will be on Saturday 1st of August and there will be 15-20 performances maximum, from which 5 will be big ones and 5 Symiot ones.

Will the makeover of the central square in Yialos affect the Festival this year?

The makeover will not start before the end of the summer. There will be an amphitheatre with rooms underneath for the performers, underground parking and walkways, but the Archeologia has given us a hard time for 5 years now! At the moment there is only a small makeover, and there will be a slightly raised area that will be open so that there will be a more direct communication between the spectators and the artists.


Given that Greek Law obliges the Municipalities to look after the stray animals, what do you think should happen so that there are no sick and wretched animals in the streets of Symi and to eradicate unacceptable incidents of poisoning and ill-treatment of animals?

It’s a very difficult subject....and animals are not just cats and dogs, there are also goats and lambs. And it’s a very delicate and big problem that has arisen. To say that the Municipality must gather up the stray goats in order to disclaim all responsibility is difficult. Put yourself in the position of the Municipality and tell someone “you know something, they are all strays because they are all illegal and they have to be gathered up” and the €500,000 a year that the farmers are getting from the EU, to tell them they will lose it.

Why would they lose this money if they wall in their animals?

Where will they wall them in? Shouldn’t the people have been told in advance that in order to get the subsidy they would have to wall them in? We have this out-of-control situation now and a paper arrives at my desk from the Ministry and says, you know something Mayor, if you don’t rent out a place for grazing, they will have to return the subsidy that they took the past 4 years - €2,000,000. Imagine me saying to your family that you have to return the 50-60 thousand that you’ve been given. So you see in what difficult position they put you in?

What about the stray cats and dogs whose condition upsets the tourists, giving the island a bad name?

I don’t know if there is a law, but whoever has a dog and deserts it, should be fined. My own dog was poisoned… as soon as I became Mayor! It is the mentality that needs to change when it comes to poisoning but I see that something is starting to happen. The bad thing is that I can see that the number of cats is very much reduced. Shouldn’t this mass neutering that's been going on be stopped?

Does the Municipality think about strengthening in some way the private initiatives that are active in Symi? Isn’t there, for example, a place that could be given by the Municipality for the FAROS vet clinic, that is fully equipped anyway?

Private initiatives are always welcome. It's good that you started the FAROS project, but it needs to become even more dynamic and you should always “nudge” the Municipality. At present there are building projects underway to repair all the Municipality buildings. When they are finished, we can sit down and see what spaces are left and how we can help.


Looking back over the past 6 years as Mayor, what would you single out as the most important achievement?

All projects have their value and for me they are all equal. I can’t single out just one project. For each project that finishes you certainly feel some happiness, but the biggest achievement of this Municipal Authority is that all the major projects are underway. When I talk about major projects I mean, drainage, HYTA, water, schools, the cultural centre, the library, projects for the young people like the indoor sports centre, the football ground which will happen, the marinas…

From your future plans which one is the most important that you‘d like to be finished before the end of your term as Mayor of Symi?

What I said at the beginning - the commercial jetty. There, I'll “hang up my boots” as the footballers say. Even more than the ring road, for which a study is underway, the commercial jetty project is the future for Symi.

Will you stand for Mayor again?

As the situation is at the moment, I don’t want to. That is, people say you are the first citizen, the Mayor does what he wants…but it’s not like that. And everyone thinks that we have become rich. I was working before, I had no need to become Mayor. The problem is that people say “I voted for you!”… OK, and want do you want me to do because you voted for me? And this is what saddens me, because he will come to ask something unreasonable and I won’t be able to give it.

What I can’t stand is this thing with the election. No money is worth going through that! You feel like dirt. You listen to this, that and the other...and you say "thank you" as well! That is, you feel like the last man on Earth...and you say to yourself, why do I go through this? for what reason? But it’s an illness, right…like the opening of the Petridio school building, you say, "I did this!" and your name will last... Even so, it's not worth all the money in the World! People need to understand that it’s not possible to meet all their demands.

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Updated 18/03/2009, 05:19