Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said Greece may abolish a hated “solidarity tax” next year but said big tax cheats are being allowed to get away while those who owe less are being hounded to pay up.
The solidarity tax was imposed in 2011 by then finance chief Evangelos Venizelos when the PASOK Socialists were in power. He is now the Deputy Premier/Finance Minister serving in the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader.
The tax, which put a huge surcharge on citizens as part of an avalanche of harsh austerity measures implemented on orders of international lenders, was supposed to be for one year only.
Speaking on Antenna TV, Stournaras said that the tax should be true to its name – “extraordinary” – and that the ministry will examine its possible abolition when the time comes to draft the budget for the 2015 fiscal year.
But in an unusually candid and public move aimed at a colleague in the government, he blasted Haris Theoharis, a British-educated software engineer who is the General Secretary for Public Revenues, for not reining in big tax cheats while going after people who owe less, including those who can’t pay because of austerity.
“We are still chasing the small fish and not the medium and large-scale tax evaders who live lavishly at society’s expense. We have provided the General Secretary with all the weapons and made all the necessary legislative regulations for him to make any changes he wishes and appoint the people he wants in order to combat large-scale tax evasion,” Stournaras said.
But there were indications that the government was unhappy that Theoharis had embarrassed the administration ahead of the current elections period by announcing a plan to let the state confiscate debtors’ bank deposits – which was part of the plan to cut down tax evasion pressed by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
Finance Ministry officials said the discontent was not due to Theoharis’s conduct but because there isn’t any central control over the monitoring mechanism upon the insistence of the country’s creditors. It took no less than two years and constant pressure by the creditors for the secretariat to be organized and manned appropriately.