OPINION

On tourism, EU inspectors, PSI, elections, bureaucracy, money-moving politicians

Little pigs little pigs, let us in

It is beyond time that the Greek citizens, the diaspora and  philhellenes take on the role of the big bad wolf and expose the greedy politicians and their proceeds of corruption that refuse to own up to their collective ransacking of the Greek economy.

Perhaps a short period of amnesty, where this stolen money can be returned, could be offered. After that, formal investigations of suspiciously large bank accounts and out of country transfers of wealth should be undertaken en masse  to identify and return stolen funds.

This does not need to be a difficult exercise. This also does not need to be a violent one. Get the money back, then turn our backs on such an unfortunate period of Greek history.

Michael Devanney

Canada

Tourism

While loving Greece and its people, having visited there for 30 years and making good friends in various parts of the country, I hope that the present desperate situation will not affect the precious tourist trade which is the backbone of the economy. By this I mean that there will be no strikes of airport workers, ferry operatives or any other mode of transport this coming summer to put off visitors. I know many people are losing their jobs and to do so is painful, but Greeks will have to ‘bite the bullet’ and not kill off the one industry that will help enormously to pull them out of the current mess. I wish them all luck, and my wife and I will be there this year as usual to do all we can to help in our small way.

Ron Allen

England

EU inspectors

What is the problem of having EU inspectors here in Greece? Apart from the fact that they are here to ensure that this time when we promise to make changes we will follow through. At the same time they are supplying us with technocrats to organize various departments in the public services. For instance, funding is available via the EU for coping with our problem relating to immigrants. Funding is available for various projects which will require a labour force. Our public services will hopefully at last be on a database so that we can all know if we have 1 million or 2 million public workers. Even more important, this will satisfy many of us that are dubious as to whether in fact many of these personnel exist. We can’t quite understand why tax offices never answer the phone, we queue for hours at DEH offices, we can’t get appointments with hospitals or doctors for weeks, we wait a year for a court case, schools are understaffed, museums have one guard. I do recall some years ago when they checked the status of employees at the National Gardens, they found that 32 workers were paid but only 6 gardeners were working. As usual we never did hear the outcome. One politician declares that it is degrading. As far as the general public is concerned it isn’t degrading to ask for help, what is degrading is to be considered by most citizens in Europe that we are a corrupt nation. Many people are asking why this is necessary, and don’t we have enough intelligent Greeks to solve these problems. The truth is that we do, however, sadly they are not in high public positions. Most of the departments are run by public workers that obtained their positions via the usual Greek method of, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Over the years they have risen to executive positions without degrees, or any training, and without travelling abroad to learn modern technology.

We hear continuously comments from foreign media and economists that we should revert to the Drachma. We even hear that it won’t be that difficult. These ‘professionals’ do not have a clue as to how Greece operates. As a foreigner living in Greece, even after 30 years, there are times I’m left gasping. Who do they think could possibly organize Greece, in this eventuality? You think people will remain calm and wait for orders? No! they will mob the banks, empty the supermarkets and petrol pumps and may the best man win. It would be a disaster. I also agree here with Mr. Sursock, no foreign investors will run to Greece to save her. Our constitution is flawed, it’s a nightmare. So many clauses need changing apart from the obvious, dismissal of public workers, freedom from arrest for MPs. The truth is it isn’t even democratic. We should also have the opportunity to vote for our President and his responsibilities which were removed by Andreas Papandreou should be reinstated. Even more of a total disaster is our legal system which needs modernising. Mr. Sursock is quite correct in his assumption that whether we are in the Euro or the Drachma, it won’t make a bit of difference unless we work with these inspectors and technical advisers to modernise our country.

Ann Baker

Greek elections

As many readers have intimated, there is a large proportion of the Greek public, which are known as the floating vote, that no longer have a party. This proportion can usually sway the voting as they did before the Olympics, by voting for New Democracy. Then finding that Karamanlis didn’t fulfill his election pledges, they voted into power Yeorgos Papandreou. Now they have to chose between a far-right party with Mr. Samaras, who isn’t at all popular, or a blank ballot slip. These voters won’t vote for PASOK, as they see them as a party that was too weak to implement the necessary measures two years ago, which is why our position today is so serious. Many of us are surprised that ND and PASOK are considering elections in April. Even though life may be even more difficult later this year. If this is the case then how do they imagine they will be able to pass the necessary changes, if the polls are correct, with a large proportion of parliament intent on causing chaos and destroying our last glimmer of hope? Frankly, they should take a lesson from ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ and reduce the members of Parliament to 200. They will then walk away with the elections and form a coalition of the willing to work our way out of this situation.

Ann Baker

Argentina is now a G-20 member

Argentina defaulted in 2001. Today Argentina is a G-20 member. I agree with Harvard Economics Professor Roubini that Greece should exit the euro zone. Many world-renowned economists are of the same opinion.

In the early 1990s the Argentine government reined in inflation by making the peso equal in value to the U.S. dollar, and privatized numerous state-run companies, using part of the proceeds to reduce the national debt. However, a sustained recession at the turn of the 20th to 21st century culminated in a default, and the government again devalued the peso. By 2005, the economy had recovered: there was considerable GNP growth, renewed foreign investment, and a significant drop in the unemployment rate.

Others have stressed that the main shortcoming of economic policy-making during the 1990s was that economic reform was not pursued with enough determination.

Since the default in 2001, growth has resumed, with the Argentine economy growing by over 6% a year for seven of the eight years to 2011. The unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2011 was 7.3%. This was achieved in part because of a commodity price boom, and also because the government managed to keep the value of the currency low, boosting industrial exports. Taxes on imports and exports increased government spending from 14% to 25% of GDP.

George Salamouras

Tax police score a major catch

I know someone on the list personally — he owes over 400,000 in tax, I would gladly take any tax inspector to their home myself (no expense in searching) as this individual owes me 50,000 as well!

As far as I know he hasn’t been approached to pay anything and is actually waiting on a solution through the banks! It’s a mad country we live in when these people are allowed to get their debts to these astronomical levels in the first place!

Slightly off subject. I am a law-abiding citizen (British married to a Greek) — I pay my taxes — I pay (or paid) my TEBE — I pay all monies owed for having a small shop in a small town. However, in the past four months since the austerity measures have been in place, I have seen an incredible drop in sales (sales were never great in the first place but enough to pay dues and help with the running of our modest home).

Now I cannot pay:

The rent on the shop

TEBE

If you take 300 in a shop a month and the rent is 400 and TEBE 600 a month… you do the maths. Solution? Close the shop? Then I won’t even have that bit of money to buy food for my children!

I have tried to have TEBE payments lowered — they refused — so I said to them, ‘So it’s an all-or-nothing situation?’ ‘Yes,’ they replied — then like most of the small businesses I will pay nothing! Simple.

My husband owns a ‘mandra’ selling construction materials — some people living in their luxury houses have not paid for their materials and we now have to find 100,000 euros to pay their bills! Even the council of Zagoria (Preveza) owes us 5,000! Even they won’t pay us and we are just a family business! Solution? We go to a lawyer as there are no debt collectors in Greece who work on commission (like in UK) and now we must find 500 euros each time for the lawyer — which we don’t have!

The construction work has ceased — we cannot pay out mortgage (because of other people). My husband, who is by trade a ‘sideras,’ has tried to make the civil engineers and the architects pay what they owe us and even they refuse or they take part of the money owed away from us — as ‘their gift’ for giving us the work! I do not understand this system or this country even though I have been here 24 years! If it weren’t for my children I would have left a long time ago and headed for a far less corrupted country. I don’t know how these people sleep at night that have caused the hardworking group of Greek families to suffer like this. Throw out the current government and get some young educated people to find a solution and make laws that are adhered to!

Janine Meakin

Greek disease — paperwork

I feel great sympathy for individual Greek civil servants who are losing their earnings, pensions etc. But my experience taxing my moped (very small motorbike) in Rethymnon in early January encapsulates the ‘Greek disease’ perfectly.

Step 1. Travel 22 km to my nearest tax office.

Step 2. Queue up at window 1 in the tax office, fill in form and  buy a very expensively printed voucher.

Step 3. Queue up at a second window, complete another  form.

Step 4. Queue up at the main cash window and make a second payment.

Step 5. Return to the second window with proof of payment and get a stamp on the form.

Step 6. Travel one kilometre to the police station with stamped form.

Step 7. Fill in two more forms at the police station and make a third payment.

Step 8. Get two police stamps (a postage type stamp, plus a rubber stamp) on my documentation.

Step 9. Travel 22 km home again.

All this was undertaken without drama, and in good humour. But:

It involved four different civil servants, at least six forms,  three receipts, three hours of my time and for what? All three payments totalled just fifteen Euros, nowhere near enough to cover the costs incurred by the Greek State administering the tax.

Putting up the tax is not the answer. Simplifying the process by eliminating paperwork is. Then the need for so many civil servants will evaporate overnight.

Dave Wood

Roumeli, Rethymno, Crete

Greek MPs squirreling money abroad must not be protected

Regarding Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos having told Parliament that a significant number of lawmakers have moved sums in excess of 100,000 euros out of the country in the last two years but that he would not be publishing their names because, as he said, ?Some of the cases might involve health problems or relatives making legal and normal commercial exchanges?, this response again demonstrates one of the major problems that holds Greece down: fear of transparency.

If those MPs who have moved large sums of money out of the country have truly done so for entirely acceptable reasons, then let the public be their judge. Greek leaders must demonstrate faith in the people of Greece! The Greek people will not pillory a Greek MP who transferred over 100,000 euros abroad because of some extraordinary medical operation that needed to be performed urgently and therefore privately — although I don’t know that there are many operations that cost 100,000 euros!

But instead of transparency, with MPs being publicly called to account for their actions, it appears that one or two fellow-lawmakers will meet with those who have transferred large sums abroad. And we all well and truly know now, don’t we, the sort of malarky and face-saving that are highly likely to be entered into at such meetings, behind closed doors!

Are newspapers in Greece, the Greek papers in Greek, relentlessly hounding the government on such questions as this… until the government succumbs to the popular will and throws open its doors and enables accountable and transparent government in Greece? Does Greece have any newspapers staffed by journalists who, like terriers, will not give up until injustices are sorted out?

David Cade

South Shropshire, UK

Hospital doctors brain strike

One of the amazing aspects of (the) Greek healthcare (system?) is the non-position of general practice. So everybody is running to the hospital when they have a problem. And because of the fact that hospitals are expensive institutions a country can afford just some of them.

When I was a Greek hospital doctor I was telling the healthcare minister right now that when reducing the number of hospitals it is important to have general practice everywhere. This in order to help patients close to where they live. To prevent the unnecessary use of expensive hospital care. And by that, the unnecessary use of the services of their doctors (in the emergency services). In this way you create a win-win situation for everybody.

Hans van der Schaaf

The ‘Greek tragedy’

I have been making observations on this ‘Greek Tragedy’ for over two years. First of all, the flourishing Greek economy  was mishandled by the past corrupt rulers and policy makers. They most adamantly refused to come clean and take corrective measures at the right time. They manipulated data and kept the Greeks as well as the world in a state of ignorance about the havoc that was being played against its own people. This was all about the past.

The real tragedy began when this country became a member of this 27-member group of the EU and the euro was adopted as a common currency by 17 members, including Greece. This provided a unique opportunity to the big EU banks, money lenders, property dealers, insurance companies, bond traders and others to exploit the Greek economy so much so that ultimately the bubble started bursting when the world economy started sliding in 2007. Greece with other weaker economies in the group called the PIIGS — viz Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain — were invaded by the others for exporting their goods and, in the case of Greece, the heavy armaments which it never needed. Being in the 17-member euro zone their monetary policy as to adopting corrective measures like devaluation etc was limited. Hence the subsequent fiasco, bailouts, downgrading by credit rating agencies and more followed with the results as gloomy as could be.

During all the process leading to a bogged-down industry, trade, tourism etc, the super EU bosses managed to levy heavy burden on the debt/deficit by imposing heavy penalties, borrowing rates and the most unbearable austerity measures. All these heavy-handed actions resulted in 160% debts against GDP and 20% unemployment as the figures indicate today.

The objective of the bigwigs was to exploit and the response of the victim was to obey, doing nothing else. Hence the resultant woes of the innocent citizens through no fault of their own.

Now, having narrated as above, it can be said that this latest bailout agreement will further bring the Greeks to their knees. Maybe their valuable assets, tourism industry, ports all be auctioned by the EU/ECB/IMF troika by sufficiently empowering themselves by means of this agreement under duress, as I can see it impartially. They will even buy their houses, properties and even clothes  on ‘loot-sell’, viz ?Buy one, get two free.? They super-rich Greeks have already fled with money, so those powerful external forces will enjoy fishing in the troubled Greek waters and posing as if they were rescuing this country. Is this a rescue or an imposed suicide? My sympathies are with the common Greeks. Let us pray that common sense prevails and something happens so that they get out of the woods. The US government is sympathetically watching the situation and contributing through the IMF. I hope it does more to help this downtrodden economy and to protect the world economy against the adverse impact of this deal. However, these are my personal views; not being an expert like the wizards who have made, signed and sealed this agreement, because Greece will not be able to repay in the foreseeable future.

Amir Dewani

Florida, USA

List of MPs moving money abroad expands

Who wants to bet that this «investigation» will not go any further?

Mr Venizelos has a list of politicians and their families who moved money abroad but the list will not be made public because there may be «health» reasons why the money was sent to safe havens.

It reminds one of the list of the tax dodgers Mr Venizelos had in his possession a couple of months ago and refused to make it public until there was an outcry.

It is enough to make one believe that no matter what, these people who found themselves in charge have no one else’s interest at heart except for those they represent and are supposed to serve.

We ought to take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we stooped so low as to have these individuals gambling with our future. Perhaps, we can think straight and never make the same mistakes again.

Monica Lane

PSI

Let me say that as a hard-working German citizen I am appalled at the bargaining and demanding attitude the Greek finance minister has shown towards creditor countries and the banks. I think that the Greek people deserve their fate as in the good times they have shown to be corrupt, accepting fraud, tax evasion and other dishonest practices to increase their quality of life. In the meantime Germany went through 5 tough years from 1999-2004 with real wages falling, liberalization of the economy and tightening of social security. How on earth is it possible that Greeks were paid even higher minimum wages than Spain, pensions were higher than in Germany, 10 billion in pensions were paid out annually to unentitled recipients and 60 billion in taxes were evaded every year, that tax inspectors accepted bribes to drop charges against tax evaders? I believe that the Germans, the French and the Dutch really have had enough and it would be best for Greece to be kicked out of the Eurozone. You have not brought any benefit to other members, but exploited and embezzled structural cohesion funds and borrowed big from capital markets to finance your lavish lifestyle. I can assure you that for the next 3 years visitors will not come to your country because they are incensed at your behavior, your culture of fraud and corruption and the damage you have brought on the Eurozone, its banks, investors and taxpayers.

Your government should understand that and offer its withdrawal from the EZ, where you should never have been admitted in the first place. As you can see, I am very pessimistic about Greece. The only thing that would help you is leaving the Eurozone and getting the military to run the country as your parties are completely corrupt and dishonest! What a shame!

Tom Baum