Friday 3 September 2010

Taxes as Solidarity

«Ο φόρος για αυτή την κυβέρνηση δεν είναι χαράτσι, είναι αλληλεγγύη, γιατί οι φόροι με αυτή την κυβέρνησησημαίνουν ότι αυτά τα λεφτά θα πάνε εκεί όπου πρέπει. Θα πάνε για να στηρίξουν περισσότερο εκείνα τα κοινωνικά στρώματα που το έχουν ανάγκη,όπως βεβαίως και μια αναπτυξιακή διαδικασία». 

The tax for this Government is not a hike, it is solidarity, because the taxes [raised by] this government means that this money will go where it should. It will go to support those social strata  which need it, as well of course to a development process. "

George Papandreou, quoted in To Vima, 3 September 2010

No matter how hard Prime Minister Papandreou may be trying, he is failing. It is impossible to describe the rage, the cynicism and the disgust the average citizen or resident of Greece feels when she or he reads this kind of statement.

For years, our taxes will go to pay off a gargantuan public debt. For years, we have been receiving sub-standard public services in every domain, from education to security and from healthcare to telecommunications.

For years, taxes are being taken from those who pay them, to those who do not: farmers, teachers, civil servants and other special interest groups who enjoy full pensions, subsidies, easy work conditions and long holidays, which they have not paid for.

For years, the political parties have raided public procurement, amassed bribes and kickbacks, which they have never been forced to return or account for. After years of investigations of the “structured bond” scandal, the Siemens scandal, the Vatopedi scandal, no one is in jail, no money has been regained. The number of “hidden” scandals which are not being investigated can be counted in the hundreds.

The corporate sector and the middle class in Greece are being destroyed by direct and indirect taxes on the one hand, and higher costs of living on the other. The average middle-class professional pays over 50% of his or her total wage in direct and indirect taxation, providing of course they declare it.

The lower income groups face the prospect of hunger, rising unemployment and declining social mobility. Greece, with all its talk about social solidarity, has the least effective spending on social policy, according to European Commission studies. Which means the money is wasted, or ill-spent.

Kathimerini’s editorial comment today describes my sentiments exactly.

State needs to change, not taxes

Prime Minister George Papandreou said yesterday that citizens should not view the imposition of more taxes as another slap in the face but, rather, as an act of solidarity.

Had he been talking about some other country, one in Northern Europe perhaps, where the revenues from taxes go toward helping the more needy members of society, he would have been right. As things stand, however, taxes in Greece go toward propping up a wasteful and corrupt state apparatus.

Citizens would surely have no problem paying higher taxes if they could see the benefits, if they saw a crackdown on tax evasion and an improvement in state services. Right now all they see are their contributions getting bigger as the state continues to waste and fails to make the changes necessary in crucial areas.

Under these circumstances, of course Greeks see taxes as a slap in the face and they will continue to do so until things change and they feel that the state is on their side and their money is being well spent.

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