UNFOLDING GREEK TRAGEDY

NTU don sees turmoil up close during trip home

Dr Christos Sakellariou says there are already reports of lay-offs as small businesses have been hit by a lack of liquidity.
Dr Christos Sakellariou says there are already reports of lay-offs as small businesses have been hit by a lack of liquidity.

The Greek crisis seems far removed from Singapore life but it is becoming all too real for an academic from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Associate Professor Christos Sakellariou of the NTU economics division is holidaying back in his homeland, Greece, and seeing the turmoil up close.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: "Workers are still being paid but cannot withdraw more than €60 (S$90) per day.

"Certain categories of pensioners are in a more uncertain situation as the pension funds are struggling to find the necessary funds and, at times, are crediting accounts in tranches."

Dr Sakellariou, who has been with NTU for 25 years, added that there are already reports of lay-offs as small businesses have been hit by a lack of liquidity.

"The problem with small businesses and trade in general is that there is dependence on the banking system and credit to do business. For example, if a business uses raw materials, previously it could order on credit. Now they are asked to pay cash."

Dr Sakellariou, who is spending his time mainly in Athens, has noticed a change in attitude among Greeks since bank controls were imposed on Monday and a snap referendum called.

He senses that the real fear that Greece could be out of the euro zone is focusing minds among ordinary Greeks and putting the "no" vote - one that looked certain a day or two ago - in doubt.

"One can observe a progressive shift in public opinion towards the 'yes' vote, having been rattled by the real effects of the capital controls," he told The Straits Times.

He believes the majority will vote "yes" on Sunday, "based on fear of the thing to come".

There has been talk that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras could cancel the referendum before entering new talks for bailout aid. Other reports say European Commission officials are holding firm and will not entertain a new plan until after Sunday's vote - if it goes ahead.

Asked how he would vote, Dr Sakellariou said: "Normally, if I happened to be here during regular elections, I would vote. For this referendum, I'll probably not vote; it doesn't feel right since I will not bear any consequences of my choice."

Greeks residing here will not be able to vote on the referendum.

Singapore permanent resident and Greek national Tasos Kousloglou called the referendum "divisive".

"While no one is keen to accept the new round of austerity measures... many people are scared of uncertainty and the consequences of leaving the euro zone," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2015, with the headline 'NTU don sees turmoil up close during trip home'. Print Edition | Subscribe