OPINION

Powerful evaders

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has given the personal go-ahead to wiping out tax evasion by Greece’s major businesses, underscoring his government’s drive to wipe out the problem. A cross-referencing of data has uncovered 4,000 cases of tax evasion. These include the files of some of the leading members of the country’s financial and business world, some of whom have considerable political clout and social prominence. The data confirms the impression that some of the «haves» in this country will stop at nothing to deceive tax authorities and shift the burden onto others. That’s not all. Since evidence shows that this form of tax evasion has gone unpunished for some time, it seems that the «upper crust» of law breakers have not only been defrauding the public coffers but are also untouchable. Therefore, the government’s decision to go after them has a political dimension, in addition to the purely financial aspect of the problem. It is a fundamental requirement of social justice and equality before the law that the more prosperous – and more powerful – should pay their share of the dues. As long as that does not happen – and the state allows these people to go unpunished – there can neither be public awareness about tax payments nor any sense of social responsibility. It is that political dimension of the problem, perhaps, that determines its inherent difficulties. Fighting tax evasion among the more powerful members of society pits the government against well-connected individuals with considerable political influence. The success of such a venture presupposes the existence of political will, but also political ability. Political will is a given on the part of Karamanlis, who seems determined to succeed. If this will remains steady, the test will then be between the political power system and the resistance (and undeclared political influence) of big business. Here, however, the government will have the support of all honest Greeks. The first major step has already been taken. The Greek public is behind the government’s initiative and is waiting to see it bear fruit. In the past, assurances have been given that justice will be restored in the taxation system, but this has never happened. This time the public hopes proclamations will be translated into action, and the effort will be crowned with some success.