Legislative anarchy

From time to time we have all heard the saying that what the state needs in order to function smoothly and to serve the populace properly is not new laws but just one that would force the government, judiciary and state services to implement existing ones. People are bitterly reminded of the truth of this saying on a daily basis as they watch while those who have committed offenses against their fellow citizens, who systematically break all laws on public order, traffic regulations and even more serious crimes – from petty theft to violence, tax evasion and illegal labor – go unpunished. The other day this newspaper reported that Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis was to meet with Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras to discuss a bill on tax evasion, providing for imprisonment for violators. However, it emerged that such a law was passed years ago (Law 2523/1997, which provides for sentences ranging from one to 10 years). And a similar law had been passed in 1994 when the war on tax evasion began. As readers may well imagine, this caused a great deal of confusion. First of all because while there are in fact laws penalizing tax evaders, they are not implemented. No tax evader has ever gone to prison. And moreover, why should the government table a new law instead of enforcing the existing ones? According to the Finance Ministry, the taxation bureaus have never invoked the laws, nor have they ever prosecuted tax evaders, preferring to impose fines and settle on a compromise penalty. Obviously this is unethical, and provides plenty of leeway for corruption. Why haven’t the finance ministers obliged tax officials to enforce the law? Now the government is promising yet another law which the relevant ministers will be responsible for enforcing. Let’s hope so.