Thursday, 20 October 2011

PBS Interview

PBS's Judy Woodruff chatted with The New Athenian about yesterday's protests in Athens and the controversial bill that carries into law thousands of public sector layoffs and wage cuts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For a closer look at the situation in Greece, we check in again with John Psaropoulos, a freelance reporter based in Athens.
John, obviously, there have been demonstrations before. What was different about what happened today?

JOHN PSAROPOULOS, freelance reporter: Well, today, you had a very, very large number of people. Definitely, the crowd was in the tens of thousands.
You also had some very young people there, people in the high school ages, because schools were on strike. But you also had, of course, mature workers, from people in their 20s all the way up to people close to retirement. It's a very broad, representative swathe of society.
What perhaps made it qualitatively different is that, now that the country is in such desperate shape for its sixth installment of this bailout plan, people really feel that it's a make-or-break moment for Greece. And with every new austerity bill, this dance of demonstrations, sometimes violent demonstrations, timed to coincide with parliamentary debates has happened, but now people feel that everything really is at stake.
And that's reflective in the debate inside Parliament as well.

Friday, 14 October 2011

New Weapons Against Tax Evaders

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos today told parliament that tax evasion is a national crime now amounting to 42 billion euros in lost income to the state. He has in the past admitted that the figure contains a great deal of uncollectable debt from defunct firms.

Venizelos also revealed that the government has assembled a new task force to audit the thousand biggest companies by turnover, and is retaining private sector services to help it track down large individual tax evaders. While he appealed to the patriotism of the Greeks in honestly declaring their income, Venizelos also made clear that the government is bringing to bear new weapons to home in on large tax evaders. It recently declassified banking transactions, and the minister today revealed some of the findings of that declassification for 2009 income.

Roughly 180,000 people remitted 5.4 billion euro overseas, Venizelos said. Of those, 8,667 individuals were responsible for remitting 4.9 billion. From among these, 3,718 declared an income of less than 20,000 euro for the year.  He said the government would have remittances data from 2010 and 2011 within days.

The details were revealed during an exchange with Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left Party, who called on the government to crack down on nearly 10 billion euros in corporate tax evasion. Kouvelis implied that the government is reluctant to undertake the political cost of allowing its Financial Crimes Unit do its job of auditing individuals and companies.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The public payroll figures

The Lancet published a report today detailing a sharp rise in suicides, HIV infections and drug abuse as a result of the economic crisis in Greece. The report cites unofficial data indicating a 25 percent rise in suicides in 2010 over the previous year, and a 40 percent rise in the first half of 2011. It also estimates that HIV infections will rise by 50 percent this year.

The report prompted concern about whether Greece's truly universal healthcare system can cope with the rise in poor psychological and physical health. Doctors have reported that outpatient clinics are receiving more visitors as people try to avoid private consultations, which typically cost 40-80 euro. And  anecdotal evidence suggests that clinics are losing some of their more highly specialised doctors who are mobile enough to find more lucrative employment overseas; even public hospital doctors rely on their private practice to supplement income.

The nursing staff union says it has shed about 6,500 people in 2010 and thus far in 2011, representing about 10 percent of nursing staff. As difficult as this is for the public healthcare system to absorb, where there is always high demand for nursing services, the cuts are proportionally lower than they are in the rest of the public sector.