Sunday, October 14, 2012

The downside

The downside. Even paradise has to have some disadvantages. Who wants to spend eternity listening to ruffled feathers, hallelujahs and everlasting twanging harps? So – Firstly, corruption. This is a real bugbear but is Greece any different from anywhere else? Name me a country free of corruption. Even communist countries, China, Vietnam, are grappling with it. Don’t know about North Korea but who knows anything much about that strange Alice in Wonderland. In South Africa it now seems to be a cause for murder. A great deal of the aid donated by richer countries to the poorer ends up in individual offshore bank accounts, or possibly returns to the country of origin in the shape of extremely expensive property purchases. Perhaps the difference with Greece is that it is a way of life, affecting not only the high and mighty, but the lowly. It is called the fakelos – the envelope – and the fakelos will expedite things and solve your little problem in a flash. But there again, is Greece all that different? I remember in Liberia I wanted to make a telephone call to London and all attempts from the hotel were a waste of time – sorry, sir, all lines are busy. So I had to go down to the exchange, slip the operator a bung and was through in seconds. There will be a cure for the common cold before corruption is finally defeated.
Greece borrowed a great deal of money from Germans bankers. What was the money for? To purchase warplanes, helicopters, tanks, submarines, none of which the country wanted or needed. How were Siemens, Krupps and any other supplier paid? With their own money of course; which leaves Greece paying a great deal of interest. And why were these expensive and unnecessary items ordered in the first place? Well, I don’t know how true it is but the story goes that the German manufacturers supplied certain Greek individuals involved with quite substantial bribes. That, if true, as it very well maybe, is corruption on a grand scale.
So what other drawbacks are there? Litter! It seems Greeks simply do not care how they littler their streets and their beautiful countryside. It is a gigantic problem. The authorities do there best to counter the positive tsunami of litter and fly-tipping, but again it would appear to be a hopeless battle. In Athens the bins are cleared every night and even here on Crete our bins are emptied twice a week. Before the advent of the supermarket and mass packaging the problem was not so acute as most of the rubbish the Cretans discarded was biodegradable. The tourist season doubles the problem of course and so has the influx of expats over their last five or so years. On an island where and how do you get rid of all that rubbish? But it is not just litter. I know I’ve ranted on about this before but the graffiti is everywhere and appalling and is sheer unsightly vandalism. But again what city escapes this mindless crap? There are street artists of course but that is a different thing altogether and their work can brighten up an otherwise dull environment.
Smoking. Greeks are tobacco addicts and for the most part in many enclosed places are taking absolutely no notice of the law on smoking.
Unemployment. Because of the depression over the last few years, made even more acute by Greece’s debts and the savings demanded by the bankers, it is reckoned that 50% of those under 25 are unemployed. In the IKA building in Souda where I go for my monthly lung check-up, just inside the main doors there is an area behind a counter and glass partition where five girls were employed. One of their jobs was to make future appointments with the various doctors and apartments. Last week the office was empty and Doctor Vulgarides informed us they had been told one night to leave and not come back.  I always felt IKA was overstaffed but multiply that by every IKA office and what do you get? These girls are hardly likely in the current climate to find work elsewhere. They are now unemployed, on the dole, not paying any tax, and what does this do to for the overstretched Greek economy? Appointments are now made by telephone.
The big problem is the antiquated system of bureaucracy. Despite the use of computers everything is still also written out by hand in ledgers that could have come out of a Dickens novel and everything is copied and copied and copied and goes from one department to another to be approved and stamped. Greece uses as much paper in a week as would take the Brazilian rain forest years to replace.
Taxes – the less said about the Greek tax system the better. Even the taxman doesn’t understand it and the rules seem to change on a weekly basis. It would take a Blog by itself to try and navigate the maze. Everyone in Greece has a tax number and you can’t lift a finger or twitch a muscle but the taxman wants to know about it though people, especially professionals, have been getting away with murder for years. Like doctors whose returns are put at 12000euro when in fact their income is probably closer to 50000. Every financial transaction according to law requires a certifiable receipt. Pull the other one. Let me just say finally that the system militates against any form of entrepreneurship. Friends bought a small hotel in Georgeopoli and were busy renovating (spending a lot of money in the process) ready for their first season when they were landed with a tax demand for 3000euro. Why? When they hadn’t even opened and started to earn? That’s the law. Someone else told us the other day that she was tired and would like to close her business but couldn’t afford to as, if she did, she would immediately be landed with a tax bill of 10000euro. See what I mean? Why? It’s the law.
Rip-off merchants. Taxi drivers seem to come in for the most flak here but, again I ask, is Greece any different from anywhere else? Douglas and I were well and truly ripped off by a taxi driver in Italy.

Can the politicians of the EU really be so blind as not to see that the way they are going about things is wrong wrong wrong? In Xania, two of the main tourist shopping streets are devastated. In one thirteen shops have closed and in the other fourteen. Again I ask what does this do for the Greek economy.
Well, I suppose there is nothing new about this situation. Other countries (including Germany I might add) have experienced exactly the same circumstances before now and pulled themselves out of the mire. I am sure Greece will do the same.
There is a very old folk song (these songs are called rebetika) the song is ‘Greece will never die’ and I firmly believe that to be true.

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