Gov’t renews its pledge to battle perennial tax evasion

The government said yesterday it would revamp its fight against tax evasion, with a mix of measures ranging from stricter penalties for corrupt officials to a publicity campaign aiming to sharpen the public conscience. «Tax evasion is a problem that has not been dealt with effectively for decades because of a lack of resolve, consistency and continuity in the policies applied,» Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis told a news conference. «We must change mentality… tax evasion is a crime.» He said almost one in two businessmen declares incomes lower than that of the average salary earner, while one in four states they make net profits lower than the average pension. «If self-employment yields such small returns, why is there not a reduction in the number of businesspeople so that they might become salary earners?» he wondered. He said a national committee, comprising representatives of all the main social and vocational groupings, would be set up to seek ways of dealing with the problem. More incentives would be instituted for taxpayers to ask for sale receipts, while corrupt tax officials and those caught under-reporting incomes would be subject to stricter penalties. «We are looking at incentives for consumers to demand receipts and increase cross-checking,» he added. «We will increase penalties for public servants violating their oath.» Deputy Finance Minister Antonis Bezas said 60 tax officials have been indicted and 40 have been sentenced to prison terms since 2004. But Alogoskoufis ruled out the publication of lists of tax evaders. He said a publicity campaign would be launched soon, aiming to instill an awareness that revenue lost through tax evasion was against social welfare. «The solution lies in a change of attitude and mentality, particularly among those who are not capable of tax evading, such as salary earners, pensioners and organized businesses. I realize that we often do not trust the state. The change in mentality, therefore, concerns both,» he said. Finally, he ruled out any favorable terms for those in tax arrears to settle their dues.

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