In just two days, the Alexis Tsipras government made two shows of semi-authoritarianism that don’t fit with their loud declarations of fairness, social justice, battle against corruption and clientelism.
The arbitrary dismissal of the general secretary for public revenue Katerina Savvaidou put a big hole in the armor of ethics the current Greek government is claiming to have. The chief tax collector was fired because of allegations of extending VAT payment deadlines on television ads. To her defense, Savvaidou said that she did so in order to ease the burden on many businesses that have to pay tax on television advertising. These businesses, she said, employ thousands of people and thousands of families are dependent on them.
At the same time, Savvaidou said the same people who accused her of favoritism and fired her, asked her to extend the deadlines on the new steep VAT imposed on private education.
The superior tax collector is an independent authority and the state intervention on its work does not belong to a true democratic state. Especially when Greece is obligated by the bailout program to have its tax collection system in line.
Savvaidou noted that the announcement issued by government spokesperson Olga Gerovasili “preempted” court decisions and was thus a clear and direct intervention in both the independence of the general secretariat for public revenues and independent justice. The government was in such a rush, she added, that the cabinet’s decision was taken before a decision for her indictment for breach of duty had been finalised by the courts.
Her complaints were to no avail though. The new government has an effective method of demonizing anyone opposed by calling them servants of the previous corrupt governments. As simple as that; no arguments, no debate, no deliberation.
The previous conservative New Democracy-PASOK coalition made the same mistake in firing Haris Theocharis from the same post in June 2014. That action was criticized by Greece’s creditors at the time. And so was the firing of Savvaidou on Thursday. That robs the opposition of an argument against the authoritarian practices of the Tsipras government.
Another sign that the new government wants to manipulate independent control mechanisms is the super powers granted to State Minister Nikos Pappas who is the one who decides how many television licenses will be issued. There is also an independent authority that decides on such issues, the Greek National Council for Radio and Television, but the leftist government circumvents that with a legislative act. Now the field is clear for creating new client relations.
It is obvious that the Alexis Tsipras government ultimately wants to put partisan people in key positions under the pretense of fighting corruption. All these authoritarian tendencies have already started looking suspicious to European partners. Surprisingly, Greek people do not show any signs of reaction to such nefarious policies.
At the same time, Tsipras is trying to sweep under the carpet two cases of corruption among two key cabinet members. One who has hidden income of 1 million euros from the parliamentary committee on lawmakers’ transparency and another who is major share holder in a construction company that takes state contracts, something that is illegal. It just happens that the latter is Tsipras’ political mentor, so all his sins are absolved.
Corruption is alive and well in Greece. Only the cloak has changed.