* Greece passes law to improve budget monitoring
* Privatisation money to go into escrow account
* Municipalities attempt to boycott public sector firings
* Athens turns down troika demand for more layoffs
By Lefteris Papadimas and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, Nov 19 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.
Athens said the decrees - in addition to an austerity
package passed this month - completed its obligations to lenders
before Tuesday's Eurogroup meeting, which it hopes will unlock
more aid to stave off bankruptcy.
"We have delivered, fulfilling the final pledges we made,"
Greek government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Reuters.
The government decrees - which go into force immediately and
do not require parliamentary approval - stipulate proceeds from
privatisation go into a special escrow account and impose
automatic cuts on public sector units that miss budget targets.
European paymaster Germany, which has long been sceptical of
Greece's commitment to reform, had pushed for the measures,
according to sources close to the matter.
Greece now appears to be on track to receive long-delayed
funding under its latest bailout, and officials familiar with
preparations for the Eurogroup meeting said they expected a
"political endorsement in principle" on unfreezing loans.
Asked about Greek declarations that the government had
completed all the major steps required of them at this stage, a
senior euro zone official said: "They have done so, and two
small items remain to be done before disbursement."
Greek government officials said Athens had rejected a
last-minute demand by inspectors from the European Union and
International Monetary Fund seeking immediate dismissal or
transfer of public sector workers earmarked under a "labour
"We rejected it, we are not discussing this scenario," a
government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity,
adding the lenders then withdrew the demand.
Greece had been discussing with its lenders to put more than
22,000 civil servants on reduced pay in 2012 and 2013 with a
view to their eventual dismissal, but no final figures had been
Even with the 44 billion euros in aid now expected in
December, Greece's problems are far from over, with its euro
zone and International Monetary Fund lenders squabbling over how
to resolve the country's debt crisis.
IMF officials have said some writedown of Greek debt held by
euro zone governments is inevitable, but Germany has rejected
the idea of taking a loss on bond holdings.
Greek political leaders urged euro zone ministers to avoid
letting that hold up aid needed to avoid bankruptcy.
"At least 31.5 billion euros must be immediately disbursed,"
said Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the Democratic Left party in
the ruling coalition. "Greece must not be dragged into a tug of
war between the EU and the IMF over debt sustainability."
Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras attacked the use of
decrees saying the country risked becoming a "debt colony".
"At tomorrow's Eurogroup meeting, a voiceless, surrendered
government will go cap in hand to await what others will decide
for it," Tsipras, head of the radical leftist Syriza party, told
a news conference. The party's popularity has been growing.
One of Monday's decrees requires money from selling state
assets to be paid within 10 days into the escrow account at the
Greek central bank, set up under the country's second bailout
deal with the European Union and IMF last March.
It also imposes curbs on public sector borrowing from 2014
and sets up automatic spending cuts or tax hikes if budget
targets are missed.
A second decree cuts the pensions of parliamentary workers,
who nearly derailed a vote on austerity measures this month by
walking out, forcing the government to hastily withdraw an
amendment that would have cut their pay.
Powerful unions and shaky political will have impeded Greek
efforts to overhaul its bloated public sector.
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.
At the Health Ministry, workers blocked doorways and held
banners reading "No to layoffs!".
Protests have surged in recent weeks. Dozens of mayors
across the country have refused to send lists of employees who
would fall under the scheme and plan to challenge it 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.