Disputes over fines prove to be a major embarrassment for the capital’s mayor

Athens City Hall’s disputes with citizens who owe it money in unpaid parking fines are likely to be resolved in taxation bureaus and in the courts, at least for those taxpayers who question the amounts they supposedly owe. According to Mayor Dora Bakoyianni, the sins of previous municipal councils who simply promised to cancel fines, as well as long-term lethargy, are to blame for the accumulation of these huge debts over the past 20 years. Although the settlement of these debts in the most favorable terms possible for those concerned has been generally well-received, the way the operation was organized has led to new tribulations for the public and doubtful benefits for the municipality. Ten days after the debt settlement process began, the only certainty is that it will take a long time to complete. According to a circular from the Interior Ministry to be published within the next few days, following consultation with City Hall, holders of tickets for parking fines and other traffic violations will have until the end of July to settle their debts. During the first few days of the process, the municipal hotline 195 received about 40,000 calls. The municipality has no details of just how many people have taken advantage of the offer to pay in installments. However, there are two kinds of problems lying in wait for the unsuspecting. About 69,000 people have incurred debts for traffic violations committed since 1997. The municipality does not rule out the possibility that mistakes could have been made in the notifications sent to these people. All of these may be cleared up by visiting the municipal payment points, as the municipality has complete data on all those owing fines as well as their taxation number. Athens City Hall has precise data on traffic violations and proof of payments, and it can also say if the vehicle in question has changed ownership. Nevertheless, for those who still question the amount and do not pay the fine by the end of July, then City Hall will pass the debt on to the taxation bureau, which will not provide proof of tax payment to those still owing money. Then there are another 300,000 people for whom City Hall does not have complete details, including their taxation number. It claims that if these people come forward it can prove the debt owed or else it will be able to discover any mistakes (such as transfer of the vehicle’s ownership). For those who decide to take advantage of the installment plan, all will be well. For those who question the violation, there are two solutions. Those owing small amounts (the municipality has not yet said how small) will not be chased up so they can wait for 20 years for the statute of limitations to expire. Those owing larger amounts will face court action.