Recovering elusive revenues

The monthly drama in public revenues (which were artificially boosted by 5 percent in August) shows that not only is there something rotten in the state of Denmark as in Hamlet’s soliloquy but also in the Finance Ministry in the center of Athens. How can it be that national income gallops at a 7.5-8 percent rate, that retail sales in department stores and supermarkets grow at a 13 and 17 percent pace, but the state cannot collect the respective tax revenues? Some people are obviously getting their hands on public monies. But who are they? It is the businessman who does not pay the taxes due; it is the shopkeeper who does not give receipts; it is the self-employed person who cooks the books; it is the tax officer who is bribed to turn a blind eye. It is all these and many more who are implicated in the smuggling of contraband cigarettes and fuel. A recent crosschecking of data belonging to a property tycoon who had submitted a 14-page E9 form concerning property assets, found that the person had never paid any large property tax, nor had he been called to do so by his local tax office. Greeks have a soft spot for tax dodging. For its part, the state’s monitoring apparatus tolerates tax evasion, either because it is itself corrupt or because it is incompetent. In any case, responsibility lies with Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and his deputy, Antonis Bezas. Both must push through tougher measures to clamp down on tax dodgers. The ministry is about to launch a huge campaign against tax evasion, but applying the stick would perhaps be more appropriate. The ministry’s IT center, or KEPYO, has had huge success in tracking down businesses that avoid declaring profits but the ministry has not made use of these critical findings. As usual, it’s the honest taxpayers and low-paid salaried workers who will be called upon to make up for missing revenues.