Monday, 19 September 2016


There's a taverna I know that does OK during the tourist season. It's right on the harbour front on a small Greek island and when I passed by the other day it was closed. Normally it's never closed while the season's still in full swing, which of course it is at the moment, since it's mid-September and businesses like that ought to be making their money while they can, since during the winter there will be no income for almost six months.

Since the Greek financial crisis finally came to light about six years ago now, the government, governments in fact, have been trying various ways of making businesses declare their correct income in order not to evade the taxes that the country badly needs paid in order to help it turn a corner and start progressing toward solvency (now then, don't laugh!). 

For decades leading up to the crisis really hitting home regular visitors to Greece will know how so often you'd spend an evening in a traditional taverna and, when it came time to pay your bill, the owner would scribble the list of what you'd had from memory on the paper table cloth, then round it down to the nearest Drachma and - more recently - Euro. He'd say, "Call it twenty five Euro," You'd probably give him thirty and wander off happily, marvelling at how laid back such things are in wonderful, quirky, beguiling Greece.

Of course, back then very few of us would have given a thought to the fact that such methods of payment and income were an ideal way for businesses to fabricate the amount they told the government that they were earning. To us visitors it was one of the things that we loved about Greece. How laid back everything was, how quaint.

It's now legendary the ways in which various professional people have been avoiding paying taxes. How many surgeons, for example, since the government has been investigating their finances, were found to be declaring an income of around €10,000 per annum, while a €30,000 Mercedes was sitting on their drive? How many homes in the affluent districts of Athens had special covers laid over their swimming pools to make them look like enormous paved patios from the air? Drones have proved exceedingly useful in exposing such crafty ways of trying to get out of paying for licences.

It's now law that every retail establishment in the country has to display the sign (I mentioned this recently in another post, click here to read it) that informs the customer of the fact that, if they aren't given a printed receipt then they are not obliged to pay for the goods or services involved. We have a favourite bar (no names, no pack drill) which isn't all that far away from where we live, that never places your receipt, your "tab", on the table when they bring your drinks or snacks. In fact, the other evening while enjoying a pleasant drink there with two close friends from the UK, I reminded one of the family that runs the place that we were ready to pay and yet hadn't been given our apodeixi

"Haven't you? Sorry, no problem," He replied and disappeared behind the counter inside the building. 

"Aha!" We thought, "now he'll bring it." He didn't. Instead he trotted over to our table, told us the amount and waited while we fumbled in our purses for the cash. 

It's easy to be self righteous when reading about such scenarios; to say to us: "Well, you should have insisted!" Yes, it's easy, but when you're talking about one of your favourite bars on the island, run by a family you've known for many years, you do - however wrong it may perhaps be - but you do tend to reason that it's their lookout if they choose to do things wrongly. Why should we as members of the public be made to become policemen or women and force the staff to apply the letter of the law? Especially is this so when you'd be pretty sure that it would cook your goose for ever patronising the place again. 

Frankly it amazes me that there are cafés and bars, tavernas too, that still aren't obeying the law to provide an apodeixi (till receipt, lit: "proof"). I say this because it's common knowledge that the excise people are paying random visits to such businesses under cover and keeping a watchful eye for tax evasion techniques. They detect such practices going on? They close the place down - immediately. The owners then face stiff penalties and rightly so.

The taverna I refer to at the top of this piece is a case in point. While sipping an Elliniko further along the harbour yesterday my host told me what had happened. The tax inspectors had taken a table and observed what was going on. They even gave the proprietor the benefit of the doubt a couple of times, but after they'd witnesses five different groups at table paying for their meals and not being given their till receipt, the Inspectors revealed their true identity and closed the place on the spot.

Maybe the establishment in question thought that because they are situated on a small island that's difficult to get to they'd be OK, they'd be able to get away with it, but it seems not.

Another crafty scheme that has recently been reported on national TV is on first glance ingenious. The waiter does indeed place your receipt on the table when your drinks are delivered and, when you pay, you waltz off thinking that you've just patronised an establishment that's keeping to the law and paying the VAT. Ah, but, what the staff then do is void the transaction on the electronic register and then trash the receipt. Hey presto, no sale recorded. 

While sitting talking to Mihalis, who, along with his mum and siblings, runs Lefkosia's taverna on Halki the other day, I asked about the recently installed desalination plant. Where was it situated and how much did it cost? Was it partly financed by money sent back from the Halkiot community in Tarpon Springs, Florida? He told me that it cost a seven figure sum, but that in five or six years it would have paid for itself. In times past when they'd had to have their water supply brought in by boat from Rhodes, Mihalis told me that every load used to cost the island €4,000. And in the high season that would be three times a week. €12,000 per week for drinking water, brackish drinking water at that. Since they commissioned the new plant in 2014 they haven't looked back. The pressure in the taps in Halki is excellent and the water 100% potable, drinkable.

They've situated the plant in a small bay well out of sight of the village, so as not to mar the beauty of the place for the thousands of tourists and holidaymakers that visit each year. The local council on Halki is forward thinking, since the larger communities on Kastellorizo and Symi have yet to follow suit and still have their water brought over from Rhodes (Kalathos Bay, in fact) by tanker. Apparently too, the islanders had a stash of cash from the Tarpon Springs community set aside from some years ago, so that was used to supplement the amount paid for the new plant. 

In case you're wondering, the electricity supply on Halki is brought to the island by underwater cable from Rhodes. Symi, of course, does have its own modest power station, which if I remember correctly is diesel powered.

When the local council on Symi have to place an order with the water company on Rhodes to bring the tanker over, I'm assuming that they insist on a receipt.

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