In a bid to seize the initiative and to shift the focus of public debate away from the recent political problems burdening the government, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced plans on Monday evening to distribute 1.4 billion euros of the country’s fiscal surplus – derived primarily from the overtaxation of the country’s beleaguered middle income earners – to citizens on low incomes.
Tsipras said that 720 million euros of this so-called social dividend will go to 3.4 million citizens in the form of a one-off financial handout.
Another 315 million euros will be paid to pensioners who had been illegally forced to pay health insurance contributions in the period between 2012 to 2016.
The remaining 360 million euros will be given to the Public Power Corporation (PPC) to prevent further hikes in the price of electricity.
The move came as the leftist-led coalition struggles to deal with the outcry caused by the release last week on a two-day furlough of Dimitris Koufodinas, a hitman of the defunct November 17 terror group, and the uproar surrounding the way Defense Minister Panos Kammenos handled the recent agreement for the sale of missiles and weapons to Saudi Arabia.
The latter issue, which has also caused friction within ruling SYRIZA, has been downplayed by the government, which offered its full backing to Kammenos, who is also the leader of the junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL).
But opposition parties, which have accused Tsipras of trying to cover up what they have described as a scandal, upped the ante again in Parliament on Monday with two questions – one signed by a group of conservative lawmakers and the other by Democratic Alignment MP Andreas Loverdos – demanding that Tsipras takes a stand on the Kammenos affair.
For the time being, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is mulling the idea of submitting a censure motion against the government.
However, the coalition reportedly sees any move of this sort as an effort to rally the conservative parliamentary group and to divert public attention from the inclusion of Mitsotakis’s wife in the Paradise Papers list.