ECONOMY

Gov’t should release names of tax evaders, fleeing lame ducks

Public opinion takes a rather cynical view of the prospects of profiteers and tax evaders ever being brought to justice. It would, however, be in the government’s own interest to restore the lost confidence in politicians. Recent computerized cross-checking by the Finance Ministry has revealed a multitude of big businesspeople who have been systematically evading taxes. The government should publicize their names and impose severe fines that would serve as an example. Meanwhile, a number of areas in northern Greece, where the textile industry has traditionally accounted for a considerable proportion of employment, have been hard hit in recent months by successive closures. Notable among them are Preveza Spinning Mills, of former president of the Federation of Greek Industries and New Democracy Euro-MP Stelios Argyros, and Naoussa Spinning Mills of Thomas Lanaras, a prominent player in the stock market bubble in 1999. The spate of failures and losses of jobs are surely due in large measure to old «sins» of mismanagement that are only now coming to light. Of course, that is not to say that international developments, such as the end to the multi-fiber agreement, China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and the end of import quotas on January 1, 2005, did not accelerate the decline. Past governments also bear responsibility, as they failed to adopt corrective measures when the first negative symptoms appeared early in the last decade. However, in my view, the main chunk of responsibility for the current demise of large Greek textile firms belongs to the businessmen themselves, who saw the adverse signs in the global market early on but did not adapt their enterprises to the new realities with the necessary capital, that is, with investment in new equipment for new products that would find adequate demand. A prominent player in the sector told me a while ago: «Basic prerequisites for the survival of textile firms is solvency, the continuous and proper application of management, vertical organization, the focusing of organizational structure and operations on the changing requirements of clients and the production of innovative products with high added value for niche markets. Such factors must necessarily be accompanied by the continuous modernization of productive equipment. Particularly in such capital intensive industries, the impressive development of technology contributes both to the improvement of quality and productivity and the reduction in the part of labor costs in the final price.» Proof that he was right is the fact that there are Greek textile firms that are doing well. I was recently checking the first-half results of Hellenic Weavers, of Christos Akkas. There has been steady improvement in profitability, a rise in turnover and exports and impressive investment. And Akkas is not alone. So, it is not the international crisis but the incompetence of specific entrepreneurs, and it is no coincidence that all these were state-subsidized and received many government grants. They are now shutting down their factories, leaving people jobless while they have made fortunes. Let the government release the names of those who took the grants and then shut their plants. This is the litmus test for the prime minister who says he wants the country to turn over a new leaf.