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Report: Major effort needed to save national exhibition

Switzerland’s national exhibition in 2001 can only be saved if the project’s financial and management problems are overcome soon, says a high-profile Swiss businessman.

This content was published on September 24, 1999 - 17:49

Switzerland’s national exhibition in 2001 can only be saved if the project’s financial and management problems are overcome soon, says a high-profile Swiss businessman.

Nicolas Hayek (above) – the head of the Swatch Group and best known internationally for his Swatch watches – made the statement as he presented the findings of his review of the controversial Expo.01 project at a nationally televised news conference on Friday.

Money and time are among the prime problems, the businessman said, and drew attention to the following facts:

-- The funds for Expo.01 will run out by October 16. After that date, liquidity will have dried up.

-- There is still a financial shortfall of at least SFr381 million ($254 million).

-- The construction process is moving too slowly as not enough general contractors are working on the project (not least due to financial problems).

-- A more professional and more efficient management team must be set up that will, among other things, succeed in winning the confidence of Swiss business and make them live up to their financial pledges.

The strategic committee overseeing the Expo.01 exhibition welcomed the Hayek report, which was meant to assess if, how and when the exhibition could go ahead.

Leading business organisations said it was now up to the government, particularly Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin, to take a stand and spell out which way the project should go.

The Swiss cabinet is studying the report and is expected to announce by October 4 whether more government money will be pumped into the project.

On Thursday, the cantonal governments of French-speaking western Switzerland issued a joint statement in support of Expo.01, saying the exhibition was of “national importance.”

However, Expo.01 has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement, budgetary problems and resignations of key managers.

The most significant setback came in August, when Director-General Jacqueline Fendt was sacked amid allegations of management inadequacies and a perceived failure to gain the confidence of Swiss business.

Fendt was widely accused of not being up to the task of managing such a high-profile project, and that her indecision and support for “creative chaos” was a key reason that Swiss industry was hesitant with its financial support.

The Hayek report was commissioned amid hopes that the review would restore public confidence in Expo.01 and provide a new (financial) stimulus for the project.

The main concept for Expo.01 is to have four major exhibition areas in the Neuchâtel, Murten, Biel and Yverdon-les-Bains lake regions in western Switzerland. The displays, installations and artistic projects are meant to portray the kind of social, political, scientific and educational topics which are relevant to modern day Switzerland.

From staff and wire reports.

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