Greece passes last-minute budget decrees to appease lenders

ATHENS Mon Nov 19, 2012 10:52am GMT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece approved laws on Monday to enforce budget targets and ensure privatisation proceeds are used to pay off debt, seeking to appease foreign lenders before a critical meeting of euro zone finance ministers.

Tuesday's Eurogroup meeting is expected to discuss the country's debt crisis and could unlock more than 30 billion euros ($38 billion) of aid to stave off bankruptcy.

"We have delivered, fulfilling the final pledges we made," Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Reuters.

But government workers have vowed to overthrow some of the reforms.

The government decrees - which go into force immediately and do not require parliamentary approval - complete the list of measures demanded as part of an austerity package approved by parliament earlier this month.

"Greece is fully ready for Tuesday," finance minister Yannis Stournaras said late on Sunday after hours of talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

According to one of the two decrees, privatisation revenues will be paid within 10 days into a special escrow account held at the country's central bank, to make sure the funds are used to pay down public debt.

This account was set up under the country's second bailout deal with the European Union and International Monetary Fund last March.

In addition, public sector budgets will be monitored on a quarterly basis and if targets are missed, automatic spending cuts or tax hikes will kick in.

If fiscal targets are missed by more than 10 percent for two consecutive quarters and no corrective action is taken, the finance minister will appoint an administrator to oversee spending by the division missing the target, the decree says.

It also stipulates that from 2014 onwards, public sector entities will borrow for investment purposes only, subject to the finance minister's approval.

A second decree on further reforms has yet to be published, including a move to reduce the pay packages of parliamentary workers, bringing them into line with other public employees.

Municipal employees blocked city services in Athens on Monday, protesting about plans to earmark about 2,000 government workers for possible dismissal by the end of the year.

Dozens of mayors across the country have refused to send lists of employees who would fall under the scheme and plan to challenge the measure in court.

"We have the right to resist measures that destroy society," said Iraclis Gotsis, mayor of the Athens suburb of Nea Ionia on state television NET.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou and Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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