Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Taxman Cometh

Actually two women this time, it seems. Suddenly waiters and café proprietors with whom one has always had a somewhat informal relation are apologetically bringing little till-receipts with one’s coffee or whisky: telephone calls run up and down the streets; ‘Now they’re having dinner at Nina’s’, ‘Now they’ve gone over the road for a coffee’, ‘They seem to be coming this way.’ Some places decide suddenly that this is a good time to close for a day or two’s rest.

Now of course Greece needs all the taxes it can get, and I think most decent people would be happy (well, not ecstatic, but willing) to pay them if they could believe that the money would go to the health or education of the people. But things have changed little since Byzantine times: everybody knows that in fact the money goes to fill the already-bursting wallets of the people in between the tax-payer and the Government Ministries, so tax avoidance and even evasion (the distinction is becoming more and more difficult to maintain, as big companies like Amazon find ingenious ways to exploit the gap between what is legal and what is right) is normal among even the most public-spirited.

Usually everybody knows when strangers with tax-person-like briefcases are on the way; someone on the ferry will ring someone in the island. But there are still a lot of foreign visitors here, so this time they arrived without anyone’s noticing, and they went straight from the boat to a seafront restaurant run by a friend of mine. There they ‘discovered’ (they had in fact been tipped off by a jealous less-successful restaurant owner) that two of the employees didn’t have all the right papers for working in a restaurant. So the proprietor must pay a fine of €10,000 per employee-without-the-right-papers. They ‘generously’ overlooked the second employee, but 10,000 euros is surely the entire summer’s profits. Since the bureaucracy is also Byzantine it is almost impossible for any establishment to be entirely, strictly, within the law, and of course these inspectors get brownie points (and probably a back-hander) if they catch anyone out.

Not very encouraging for the recovery of the Greek economy.  
This is not a picture of the tax ladies.

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