New digital services to combat Athens tax evasion
The Greek region of Attica-Athens is introducing new digital services to tackle tax evasion and corruption, with the aim of comparing data on citizens’ assets and purchases to their declared income.
As of this year, the region’s taxpayers will be required to submit tax returns using a 56-page electronic form requesting data on movable and immovable assets as well as income. A prelude to the forthcoming Digital Assets Registry, the new database will gather financial information on taxpayers, enabling the administration to check whether – for example – an expensive car has been bought using banking services or via other methods. The aim is to help officials to better target tax evasion investigations.
Panagiotis Athanassiadis, Regional Vice Governor of Digital Policy for the Attica-Athens administration, told Global Government Forum that such technologies can enable public administrators to fight tax evasion and corruption – at least temporarily. “I say temporarily because the speed at which private individuals exploit novel technologies to evade tax is overwhelming for the public service apparatus,” he added.
Athanassiadis commented that “addressing the root causes of tax evasion requires institutional and political changes that will instill citizens with a sense of justice, while at the same time their tax liabilities should not exceed their paying abilities.” However, he argued that this is currently “impossible” to achieve because “the quartet of Greece’s creditors insist on an excessive tax collection policy.”
Supporting this regional work, the Greek government is installing 400,000 ‘Point of Sale’ software systems – computerised cash registers that provide sophisticated financial, sales and inventory reports. These are designed to be compatible with the EU’s Digital Single Market (DSM) policy, and to minimise the opportunities for tax fraud. The government also plans to apply the new OECD Standard for Automatic Exchange of Information in Tax Matters during 2016: participant countries will cooperate online, notifying tax authorities of assets held or payments made connected with accounts exceeding USD$250,000.
In parallel with these efforts to prevent tax evasion, the Attica-Athens regional administration – which covers the city of Athens, a handful of islands, and several smaller cities including the port of Piraeus – is using digital services to squeeze out opportunities for corruption in public service delivery. Athanassiadis explained that “within 2016 we will have completed the introduction of a digital service system where economic operators will submit requests via their PC or mobile phone, and the request will be monitored and settled online.”
Under these systems, he said, officials will not be able to hasten decisions or provide services in exchange for bribes: “This will simplify bureaucracy and challenge the most popular cause of micro-corruption, which is none other than collateral transactions circumventing legal processes to expedite procedures.”
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