OPINION

A crime without punishment

It is common knowledge that tax evasion has become our national sport, the only one at which we excel and for which we receive international acclaim. It is a sport played by most of us, apart from those prevented from doing so by insurmountable natural obstacles – those on wages and pensions. The authorities are aware of the extent of the phenomenon, both in the form of petty violations by the local grocer who is struggling to survive and as practiced by medium-sized and major business firms. The situation is damaging to the national economy, is a public scandal and a challenge for the state. The government lowered the taxation rate on business firms’ profits in a move aimed at encouraging economic growth. Normally, the expected resulting boost to economic activity would compensate for the losses incurred from lowering the tax rates. There would be less of a burden on the state budget and at the same time, new jobs would be created. That sequence of events might be typical in more «orthodox» economies, such as in Sweden, Ireland or any other country – but apparently it is not applicable to Greece. Long-established practices on the part of businessmen, combined with entrenched corruption in the tax-collecting system, have left the field wide open for creative accounting, records of non-existent transactions, incomplete inspections and the exploitation of provisions for leniency, among other tricks. The result is widespread looting of public funds on the part of those who are supposed to be safeguarding them. So it is extremely gratifying to know that the government is preparing to make all tax evasion a crime, in line with current practice in all developed, Western democracies. The imposition of paltry fines and compromises in tax courts does not resolve this serious problem. The introduction of International Accounting Standards at all Greek businesses, the systematic cross-checking of their transactions and the institution of strict penalties for all violators are prerequisites for emerging from the vicious cycle of serial crimes without punishment.