Taxpayers’ sweetener

Taxpayers’ sweetener

The 1,000 lucky taxpayers who were picked by lottery to receive 1,000 euros each for using plastic money in their transactions are certainly luckier than those receiving the so-called social dividend, a stipend arising from a part of the primary surplus intended for the poorest part of Greek society. The latter may be much greater in number than the former, but the lottery winners will be getting more money.

Then there’s the “super lottery” that has been promised some time in December, with “thousands of beneficiaries.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that the lottery concerns 4,556,328 taxpayers who don’t need to submit any kind of application or document justifying why they could use the money, as was the case with applicants for the social dividend. All the former needed to do to qualify to stand a chance of winning 1,000 euros was to have used their debit or credit cards, or online or phone banking in their transactions.

This measure introduced by the Finance Ministry is meant to encourage electronic transactions – rather than cash – as part of the government’s crackdown on tax evasion, and there is obviously nothing wrong with that. It is a strong motive for taxpayers in a country that has a very big shadow economy and a proclivity for paying in cash, and also a way to tax and rationalize transactions. All is good so far, even ideas of offering prizes instead of cash and linking the number of lottery tickets each taxpayer is entitled to to the volume of their non-cash transactions. Similar initiatives have already been adopted in China, Taiwan, Slovakia, Georgia and Portugal.

So, since the start of the week, the Public Lotteries Program has brought a bit of joy into this economically gloomy country, and, as fans of all games of chance, Greeks feel more comfortable with the label of gambler than that of taxpayer. Being the beneficiary of a lottery sounds a lot better than being in the grips of an auditing mechanism. It is better to feel the rush of the draw than the cold sweat of the VAT bill. There is greater distinction – and discretion – in introducing yourself as a winner than a taxman’s sap. Doesn’t “lucky pick of the month” sound more exciting than “conscientious taxpayer”?

The conclusion is that abiding by your duty as a taxpayer is a lot like taking your castor oil every day: You need a sweetener to help it go down.

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