NEWS

Cabinet dismisses revenues chief as bill seeks to increase oversight

cabinet-dismisses-revenues-chief-as-bill-seeks-to-increase-oversight

The government on Thursday dismissed the head of the General Secretariat for Public Revenues, Katerina Savvaidou, citing misdemeanor charges that have been brought against her, in a move that raised questions about the authorities’ commitment to the body’s independence.

The decision to dismiss Savvaidou, who last week was charged with breach of duty for granting television stations more time to hand over taxes on advertising revenue, was announced by government spokeswoman, Olga Gerovasili, after a cabinet meeting.

Gerovasili said the cabinet members decided “unanimously” to dismiss Savvaidou. “In such difficult times for Greek society… it is not acceptable for a public official to operate against the public interest,” Gerovasili said, suggesting that Savvaidou had “favored” certain companies by granting them additional time to pay their dues.

Savvaidou, who is also under investigation for reviewing a 78-million-euro fine on a company a few weeks before the January elections, issued a terse statement after the decision.

She accused the government of double standards and noted that the extension of a deadline was standard practice in tax administration. She also accused Gerovasili of a trying to “pre-empt the judicial decision.”

The development came as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and other key ministers were in talks with representatives of Greece’s international creditors.

As the secretariat was set up in 2012 by Greece’s creditors with the aim of removing political interference from tax collection, the decision was not expected to go down well with lenders.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, Annika Breidthardt, said she would not comment on the matter. However, a European official told Kathimerini that the move “creates concern that the depoliticization of the public administration is not progressing as it should be and that goes against what was agreed in the summer.”

The official was referring to a provision of Greece’s bailout stipulating that authorities should increase the autonomy of the revenues authority.

Kathimerini understands, however, that authorities plan to do the opposite. According to legislation that is currently being drafted, a new body is to be set up, called the Greek Authority for Public Revenues, and is to be supervised by both Tsakalotos and by a nine-member council.

The finance minister is to be informed of all the decisions as well as the general direction of the authority’s planning.

Former Finance Ministry officials noted that the provision agreed to by Greece over the summer does not foresee government ministers being briefed on or supervising what is supposed to be an independent authority.