By Spyros Dimitrelis
Attica Hospital. Thursday 26 October afternoon, around 6.30. On the hospital’s website it says that the visit is from 6 to 8 pm. Upon entering the 3rd pulmonology clinic where the patient for whom the visit was made is being treated, you come across a sight that, in the year 2023, you do not want to believe . The entire corridor of the clinic is filled with ranches, I must have counted at least seven and a ranche has also been placed, with a screen please for privacy (sic), and in the small lounge that is there for visitors.
In most ranches, patients trying to preserve what they can of their dignity by hiding their bodies with sheets. And while you are shocked because you consider that in Greece or Europe (?) of 2023 these images are a thing of the past, the next knock comes from the security guard at the end of the corridor: “You cannot stay in the clinic area because now the ‘hospitalizations’ are taking place” .
Nurses usually come by and administer the drugs based on the instructions they have received from the attending physicians. To the reasonable question why the visiting hours are posted on the hospital’s website and not observed because hospitalizations are done on the visiting card, no answer is given. The reasonable question is what did the taxpayer patient do wrong who for thirty years, as an employee of the private sector, has paid a few tens of thousands of euros for his medical insurance and when he needed the help of the state for his health he found himself in a ranch in a corridor hospital, in an image more reminiscent of Gaza and less Athens of Europe, has not yet been answered.
It has not been answered in the previous decades and I am not particularly optimistic that it will be answered in the next. The ranches will be there. Arrogant. Invincibility. Let them remind the Greek taxpayer (the one who pays the taxes due to him and not the tax evader, of course) that no matter how much he pays, his money will not go anywhere. It is the so-called reciprocity of taxes that is one of the main motivations for being consistent with one’s tax obligations.
These thoughts come just a few hours after the announcement of a new package of measures to combat tax evasion among freelancers. The situation reminded me of an old International Monetary Fund report on high tax evasion in Greece. It was made public in June 2013, in the “memorandums”. Why is tax evasion high in Greece? High tax rates that provide an incentive for tax evasion, the evader gains a comparative advantage over the honest because he can and does charge less, litigation against tax audit decisions favors the evader, constant extensions of deadlines and arrangements for paying taxes and a sense of non-compliance reciprocity of taxation. The IMF specifically says: If the individual perceives that he is not getting something in return from the state, the incentives to not pay taxes are high. Greece has an oversized and inefficient public sector. The level of corruption in the state is high, with Transparency International ranking Greece as the most corrupt country in the EU. The quality of services provided by the state to its citizens is low, side payments are often required. , waiting time and excessive bureaucratic procedures. As a result, citizens are heavily dependent on expensive private services, including education, health and highways.”
The IMF could not have written it more vividly. I wonder in this part what has changed in the ten years that have passed since the report was written. Obviously not enough, to still deal with the tax evasion of freelancers and the public services of Health and Education remain at an insulting level of quality for the taxpayer. Those who hide income are not acquitted for any reason. Their behavior is highly anti-social. In fact, they not only hide income but brazenly apply for and receive the various allowances – pass, as if they are destitute, while they have three and four times the income of a really low wage earner.
The latest measures announced by the government on tax evasion for freelancers I would say are in the right direction. They will make the professionals from where they pay nothing or pay little, to pay an additional 1,000 or 2,000 euros. They are, however, only aspirins in cancer. The problem is more general. If there is no visible improvement in the quality of services in hospitals, schools, road safety and in general what the state offers many tax evaders will continue to have the argument that the state is stealing their income and others who cannot avoid payment of taxes will feel the big fools.
In the US, when an intent to evade taxes is found, the offender ends up in prison very easily. In Greece, huge incomes are hidden and nothing happens. Not to mention it’s magic. So, at the same time as making the self-employed pay 1,000 or 2,000 euros more, should we make tax evasion unprofitable with quick and enforceable penalties? Should we get serious about our hospitals and schools? There are solutions. The only thing missing at the moment is the will for real reforms in the state.