OPINION

The improvisation show that won?t stop

A «campaign» for receipts was how the government and the media dubbed a series of incentives to convince citizens to demand receipts in a bid to tackle tax evasion. The government introduced laws, made promises and issued threats and assurances. It claimed in every tone of voice that the campaign was well thought out and that it was confident of the results.

It proclaimed its belief that this was the best way to bring tax justice, to bring a flow of cash into state coffers and to placate the demands of Greece?s lenders at the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The plan was, in fact, presented with great fanfare as only one of a series of measures to bring order to the Greek tax system, which included searching for, tracking down, apprehending and disgracing the usual big players, whose greatness is to a large extent the result of structural shortcomings in the tax collection mechanism or outright tax dodging.

Despite customary skepticism toward the state and the suspicion with which such promises of equality are regarded, hundreds of thousands of household across the country were convinced that something may actually come of it all and that for once, maybe the bill wouldn?t be picked up by the same people who always pick it up. So, they started collecting receipts. They placed a box somewhere in the house, in a spot where visitors could see it and start up a discussion about the plan, and they squirreled away their receipts. Some just tossed them in, others had them organized by month and others sorted them with a collector?s passion: receipts for groceries, meals, books, car repairs and even a few of those rare specimens from electricians, plumbers and doctors. At one point we even saw ads on the Internet posted by various clever peddlers saying they were selling receipts in bulk at 10 or 20 percent of their total value.

One year later, the ?receipt campaign? hit a wall, as even those who came up with and promoted it have to admit. And, keeping with tradition, we are now hearing new promises that the initiative will be reviewed and new threats that there will be punishments for those who either through wile or habit found the loopholes in the law and, instead of paying up, will end up receiving money from a state that was quite certain that it had found a great and honest way to get back on its feet.

In the theater the saying is ?Tonight we improvise.? In the Greek state, the saying should be ?We always improvise.?