OPINION

On taxation, party funding, honesty, smoking, Angelopoulos, prisons, eurozone exit

We continue to hear about various business people being arrested for tax evasion — sometimes more than once — but we do not hear whether the state has been able to collect any of the back taxes these grifters owe. This is also news and for many of us, a welcome respite from the seemingly endless stories about default, lack of competitiveness, falling wages, bankrupt politicians, the battle for the PASOK leadership, and national elections.

For as Albert Einstein once said, «In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”

Jonathan Reynik

Why not start with getting rid with some of «the open secrets?»

Here is how it works: First you pay your accountant 80 euros a month (that is 960 euros a year) for him to see you four times a year to calculate the VAT you have to pay. Then he informs you that he wants to make it all legal, and he writes you a receipt for, let?s say, 200 euros. Since one has to pay taxes for such official transactions (VAT+ income tax) he happily informs you to please pay them both!

So, not only does he keep all the 960 euros completely black in his pocket, but he also wants you to pay for his income tax too (on top this is). His claim is that this still saves you money, which of course must be good for you.

That is how the government is cheated out of of 334 euros a year (VAT + Income Tax) and then goes on to screw you, by making you pay.

I have since spoken to a new accountant, but guess what? This is how it works!

Andreas Teschner

Rafina

Cracking tax evasion a political issue

There we go again. Another official of the government comes up with new accusations against the political pressure applied on them while performing their duties.

It is no mystery that businessmen could not have amassed such debts to the State, without officials of the tax offices turning a blind eye. There is no way anyone could stay in business collecting VAT taxes and not turning them over to the State year after year unless he had friends in high places and palms were being greased.

At a time when outsiders openly suggest that we become wards of our lenders we still read about unnamed individuals who are being arrested because they owe millions in back taxes.

Again the owners of a two-bedroom apartment run the risk of staying in the dark unless they find the few euros they owe in property taxes while the Ministry of Finance does not even communicate to the public as to what is happening to all those tax dodgers.

Has any of them spend time in jail while the debt is still due? Has anyone of them pay the amounts due? Has anyone’s account been examined to see how much money left Greece so he can declare bankruptcy and claim he cannot afford to pay his bills? Is anyone from the tax office looking into transactions and transfers of property and fortunes from those who owe to relatives?

What else has to happen before we finally see anyone being punished for financial crimes against the State?

Monica Lane

Florida

Lack of political courage

Kudos to Professor Spinellis for shedding some much needed light on what really happens behind the scenes of the Finance Ministry. He is someone who clearly has the IT expertise to facilitate the process of tax collection and, hence, police the systemic tax evasion that has plagued our nation for decades. And yet, as we have seen and experienced repeatedly over the years, political forces (continue) to grandstand before the public espousing fairness and justice when in fact something very different has been taking place.

Professor Spinellis attributes this duality to a lack of political courage. One could, instead, argue that our finance minister?s inaction represents selective enforcement of tax law for political convenience. This is a clear dereliction of his sworn duty, violates the oath of office that he took when elected to the Parliament, and worse still, represents personal gain to the detriment of our nation. There is a word for someone who betrays another?s trust or is false to an obligation or duty.

Sadly, Mr. Venizelos is the author of the immunity from criminal prosecution law that protects him and his 299 cohorts. That is until they are no longer in the Parliament. Therefore, what the taxpaying citizens of Greece should be asking ourselves is how much longer will we enable the petty indulgences of a ruling class?

Jonathan Reynik

Re: Justice Minister calls for public prosecutor action

In most cases, investigators want someone under arrest to cooperate because they are after bigger fish, so they agree to a lesser sentence with the one who will «talk.”

Sometimes the information is valuable and sometime not. However, if this «businessman» has in his possession tape recordings which will prove beyond any doubt that Parliamentarians have been involved in these extortion schemes, these tapes must be made public immediately.

We are talking about national elections in the coming weeks, we are talking about an overstuffed Parliament and a do nothing group of handsomely paid fat cats.

Before we go back to the polls again to vote for anyone, we need to know who did what, when and how.

Jonathan Reynik

Between the election and the fall of George Papandreou

The problem with history is that it is always written by the winner and the problem with understanding the recent post-PASOK Greek history is that there has not yet been a winner.

George Papandreou promised something that seemed very straightforward and not reaching beyond the possible. He promised that with the support of the Greeks Greece can change and he won the election because the majority of the Greeks know that Greece must change. It is no secret that there is selective enforcement of the law and that bribes and favors is what is necessary to stay in business and that «to meson xriazetai» (you need someone on the inside).

What he did not understand at the time is that there is a selfish narcissistic streak in the Greek individualism that demands that everyone else to change first. This is why Greece is stuck in limbo and if it does go under it would have earned it.

This is well understood as the tragedy of the commons, where the selfishness of each member of a community brings on a well known and likely resulting disaster to all.

So, is there anyone elected to national office in Greece that does not understand the severe consequences of not convincing the EU that Greece will reform its economy and «live within its means”? So why are Karatsaferis, Samaras, Papariga and others unwilling to do everything it takes to provide a unified front and make the case that Greece is changing? Are they all blind or stupid?

No, the reason is exactly the same one that drives Diamantopoulou, V. Papandreou, and others within PASOK that worked on blocking making the changes when PASOK was in power. It is that they understand that their constituents are not wanting any change. But how can that be; don?t they understand the consequences? It can only be because after years of living in a corrupt society everyone thinks that they have a «special relationship» with the system and some advantage that will protect them from the calamity that will befall those the others.

So, what went wrong… well, George Papandreou discovered that he took over the Greece that is rather than the Greece that should be!

Kostas Alexakis

Re: MPs reject reduction in funding

Well that is too bad. If they expect the public to pay again for their pre-election campaign and the debts they amassed they are in for a surprise.

Have they been in a coma for the last two years? Did anyone hear that we are broke and live off loans because their tenure in office has brought us over the brink?

Hopefully they will not get the money (at least we have to hope so) and they will refuse to run because they would not have the funds and rid us of their presence.

How is that for a ray of hope for a better future?

Monica Lane

Florida

How does Mr. Papademos spend his time?

A Greek friend, 30 years old and about to receive a PhD, wrote to me the following over the weekend:

“I’m not a political analyst or an economist to be in a position to say who is exactly to blame. Probably all of us are responsible, even the martyrs that tolerated this situation and did nothing to change it. Surely, we need someone descent in charge and maybe only one is not enough because the others will soon knock him out. I had hoped (and probably a lot of Greeks as well) that Lucas Papademos was our hope, but I see no change. A true will to reform Greece from its base; to reform and change the system; to really deal with tax evasion for example. There is a TV show in SKAI presented by Alexis Papachelas and two others called ?The New Files? that dealt with tax evasion and what I saw was absolutely hopeless».

That has caused me to ponder how Mr. Papademos might have been spending his time so far. Put differently: what has he done and what is he doing? How does he spend his time?

Well, if he has given a rousing blood-sweat-and-tears speech about the long dark tunnel ahead but with a light at the end of the tunnel, I must have missed it. Oh, one has to be a charismatic political leader to be such a rousing speaker? A technocrat can’t do that? Well, anyone who has seen the movie ?The King’s Speech? will know that even a man with a speech impediment can rouse people.

If Mr. Papademos has done anything about developing a long-term economic plan for Greece, I have missed that, too. I am not saying that he, as prime minister, should do that personally. He shouldn’t, despite all his technocratic expertise. But he could have commissioned a task force of the best and brightest intellectual, economic and business talent which Greece has to offer — and Greece offers a lot of that — to develop such a plan.

Instead, everything I have heard from Mr. Papademos, via newspapers and/or social media, related in one way or another to troika issues, debt issues, austerity issues and other things like that.

So I can see why my young Greek friend is disappointed. I am too! Particularly since it would be so easy to take some of the right steps. Just think what a regular, middle-market entrepreneur (possibly without academic education) might do when his company got into trouble.

Well, he probably would call all his employees together to talk to them about the problems. He would explain where the company has been; where it is now; where he hopes to have it in the foreseeable future; and what everyone can contribute to achieve that. He would explain that they all have to work together, to pull on the same string in order to get there. He would explain to his employees that if they didn?t want to do that, he might as well close doors right away. On the other hand, if they did do that, they would all have a good time again in the future.

What are you waiting for, Mr. Papademos?

Klaus Kastner

Austria

Smoking ban

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m a non-smoker. It’s almost like saying that I’m not Greek. I realize that it’s a highly addictive substance and there?s not enough community support for detox centres. Greek people reading this might think ‘here we go again,’ but, well it’s a serious issue, one that needs to be addressed again and again. The crisis has made businesses kneel to the needs of smokers and ignore the cries of those complaining otherwise. I can?t go out anywhere. Is that funny or sad? The government spent a lot of money on anti-smoking ads that it could keep Athens smoke free for a couple of years. But still this only gave a comic trophy to Papandreou. There?s nothing to further comment on at this moment. For those who smoke and lack the motivation to quit, I suggest to educate yourselves on the use of tobacco and how it affects your environment.

Hari T.

Soul-searching

Apart from Sam Welch’s extraordinarily frank comment, the rest are settling down, it seems, to ‘nuts and bolts’ issues. As if all of a sudden the fundamentals are being resolved and you just need to do a little tinkering.

In reality, your state is either falling apart or seizing up. Your people are becoming demoralised and apathetic. You have the third world in sight to end up when you crash to earth after your free fall. Greeks aren’t pulling together as they should. There is no one to lead. What’s the point of elections when 11 million people can’t produce anyone with vision and integrity and intelligence. Those have all gone abroad…

All Greeks can do now is look to their souls. The Greek soul needs addressing. It drives Greeks, their culture, their way of life and their self-respect. It has been largely ignored during the EU illusion years. Soon your soul will be all you have left. The third world knows about soul. Soul is all it has left.

But no, Greece will remain in the EU, the Germans will take over and you will all become good little Mediterranean Bavarians. Just like King Otto was.

Maybe the Germans will even tie you up to Turkey to make you feel better. Like they got the Italians in the war to occupy you after you had resoundingly beaten them in 1940. Well Germans can’t run all of the EU on their own, but they’ll try. So if they hand you to Turkey (strong economy, government seems to work) the Turkish ‘kakos veziris’ can do the German’s dirty work for him.

Or maybe some Greek will discover Hellenic Pride in his/her soul and lead her people to something different. It?s about time a female Alexandra La Magnifique led you. You haven’t had a woman leading you (except for Bouboulina) since the Goddess Athina 3,000 years ago. Now that would be a change and it might even work! It might give every Greek male over 50 a heart attack and leave the younger intelligence to make a fresh start…

Philip Andrews

Greek economy: dire straits with deep roots

Digging into its past, it becomes clear that Greece has been in dire straits, bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy, desperately poor and dependent on foreign handouts and loans, throughout most of its modern history.

From the foundation of the modern Greek State in 1830, the fledgling country underwent a century of economic privation and instability: through the Balkan Wars; the First World War; the disastrous Asia Minor campaign, for which the Entente powers carry much responsibility, and the consequences of which were to throw into an already wobbly economy one-and-a-half million ethnic Hellenes, a full quarter of the entire indigenous Greek population; and World War Two, during which the Wehrmacht perpetrated wartime wrongs never redressed and plundered the country of wealth never returned.

Following this drawn-out turbulence and more, no matter how much it tried, the country was unable to scramble to its feet. Tens of thousands of Greeks were obliged to seek work abroad. It was not until the late 70s, early 80s that the general standard of living began to appreciably rise: profligacy fuelled by the mass socialist policies of Andreas Papandreou?s government and by heady European Community membership, with the European authorities in the role of negligent parents.

Viewed in this context, it is no surprise that the Greeks, like sullen teetotallers forced to temperance, roped away for so long from the exhilarating financial rewards of the post-war Wirtschaftswunder, went on a complete bender.

Evelyn Read

That’s how the plan works

First, you have to make arrests for tax and financial fraud to calm public opinion in Greece.

Among them, many with strong political ties who managed to be free even owing the state tax as high as 1 billion euros (!), and others, ranked high in church hierarchy (Ephraim) with strong ties to Putin.

Now you got them into jail. What’s next?

You need a way to get them out. The sooner, the better. That’s how it always worked in Greece, and it’s not gonna change now. You can’t have a law that provides immunity to the politicians, and let their close cooperatives go to jail. It’s just not fair. Either all should get into jail or none. Preferably the latter, in case you happen to be a politician.

What would be the law that could be used for getting your delegates outside the jail? You have to be creative. Greeks are creative. They always have been as such. So, what would be better than, f.ex. passing a law for prison overcrowd? And then, you can get out of the prison as many people as you want, cause prisons are overcrowded.

But then, as a government you need some cause. What’s better than a common letter from your prison governors (appointed by you) who suddenly find out that their prisons are overcrowded?

Then, as a wise government, you listen to this humanitarian call (out of nowhere — the prisons became overcrowded just a few days after the arrests of VIP people in Greece), and take the appropriate measures, relieving the prisons from those unwanted (there).

That’s how it works in Greece, guys, and better get used to it (if it happens you are not Greek).

And if you still fail to capture the motives, I’ll tell you. It’s a matter of loyalty. You have to be loyal to your friends, providing them the best you can, preferably in some lawful way. Do it otherwise, and you’re history. Nobody will ever want to play with you anymore in the future. Greek politicians have to demonstrate their loyalty to the people that have cooperated in the past.

Thanos Tsakonas

Re: ?Flashes of civilisation?

As your editorial mentions, there are flashes of civilisation around, but these are only flashes. And you still ask why the country is socially, ethically, politically and economically bankrupt? Well the answer is simple. The flashes of civlisation you see are tiny compared to the rest of society. It is not just the flash of taking care of the poor and giving food and aid. What about the flash of hard work, fair play and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My friend, the economic bankruptcy of the Greek state and its people, is the symptom of a much larger disease (or dis-ease) in Greece. Solving just the economic bankruptcy will not solve anything I am afraid. It will just delay the inevitable. Does this perhaps ring a familiar bell on how and the time at which the Byzantine Empire fell? It was rotten to the core from within.

Nice article, but somehow misses your message. There is too much sugarcoating to appease various interest groups perhaps or just fear of speaking and writing the truth. That is democracy: being able to express without fear. Greece has lost the true sense of democracy a while back now.

Vasilis Petrolekas

Re: ?Break that bond that binds us?

The article assumes at its conclusion that you require reasonable employers and employees. Is that not the problem in Greece perhaps? Neither are reasonable as they both have immense amounts of suspicion towards each other. Could it be that employees view employers with jealousy to be destroyed and brought to their level, while employers realising this and instead of trying to bring educate and train the employee, will do anything to protect what he/she has out of jealousy to maintain an ego about him/her self?

Is there anyone reasonable left?

Vasilis Petrolekas

Re: German FinMin presses Greece

Well it was about a time Germans realized that they have been taken for quite a long ride.

No more wiggle room for Greece — either comply with your creditors demand or you are free to leave the eurozone and go back to drachma. It is up to you.

Michalis Papoutsis

Re: Theo Angelopoulos

I saw my first Theo Angelopoulos film, «The Traveling Players» (O Thiasos), at FILMEX (The Los Angeles International Film Exposition), in 1975. I was immediately aware I was watching a great piece of filmmaking, and «The Traveling Players» went into my list of favorite films of all time. When I saw the film, I thought of the films of the Hungarian film maker, Miklos Jancso; and the films of the Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky: The long takes, the moving tracking and dollying camera, the complex mise-en-scene.

Angelopoulos shares these cinematic techniques with those two great filmmakers as discussed in Andrew Horton’s excellent English-language book, «The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation».

And having seen «The Weeping Meadow», I was looking forward to parts 2