JOHN MCGURK files from the front line of the Greek maelstrom…
As tourists bringing much needed euros into Greece, we should be part of the solution to this country’s never-ending financial crisis.
Alas, it appears we are part of the problem.
Greece’s bill for being bailed out of bankruptcy stands at some €363,373,615,365, rising by €634 a second.
Of course that’s hardly a pebble in the ocean compared to the UK’s national debt, of £1, 7757,872,785,288, rising at £5,170 a second.
But the big difference is the ratio of debt against national productivity or GDP. In Greece the figure is around 180 per cent while the UK is around 80 per cent.
So long as Greece is unable to service its loans from the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF, the country’s debt can only get bigger and bigger which is why tourism is the key to some sort of eventual salvation.
This is also why the Greek government has given visitors what, on the face of it, appears to be straightforward invitation:
If you don’t receive a printed receipt with business numbers, tax and VAT calculations following any transaction in hotels, tavernas or restaurants then you should refuse to pay the bill.
There was even a proposal from the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis that tourists could be hired as spies equipped with video cameras to root out tax evaders and then turn them over to the authorities but that quickly fell by the wayside.
Unsurprisingly, this bold initiative for tourists to walk away without paying is unlikely to have much effect on Greece’s rampant tax evasion.
1.Some of these taverna owners with their pot bellies, bushy hair and drooping moustaches look just a bit scary. It would take a brave tourist indeed to enact the wishes of the Ministry of Finance without running a substantial risk of bodily harm.
Down here on the south cost of Crete, every road sign is mutilated with bullet holes as a result of madmen returning from an evening’s refreshment in the rear of a Toyota Hilux armed with shotguns. Just think what they could do with rebellious visitors.
2.The Greek Traders’ Association immediately introduced counter-measures urging businesses to erect signs in their establishments warning tourists to pay up or face charges of theft. Besides, Greek government corruption has been endemic so why shouldn’t the little man do what they do?
3. Crucially, the tourists themselves are very happy to pay with cash thereby avoiding increased bills. Demanding a receipt would probably add another 20% to the bill and, let’s face it, everyone likes value for money.
As I write this despatch, I am sitting in a busy taverna surrounding by Germans, Danes and French all busily munching away on salads, souvlakis, brizzolas and biftekis, while knocking back the local retsina and the cold litres of lager.
So far, every one of them has very happily accepted a handwritten scrap of paper which has calculated what they owe with an illegible scribble followed by a number. Whoops…there goes another one!
When the transactions are completed, the money is immediately slid into the back pocket of the grateful supplier of the goods without a thought about Greece’s burgeoning national debt or the continuing ruin of the country.
Since we are staying here a few nights we inquired about paying with a bank debit card or credit card.
There was an immediate frown followed by an exasperated exhalation to signal that such an arrangement was not welcome.
Now this presents a rather difficult problem.
Before we scrambled onto the ferry to reach this rather out-of-the way destination, only accessible by foot or by boat, we attempted to extract euros from the only cash machine in the embarkation town of Sfakia.
Alas, this miserable ATM spat out the card as quickly as it went in before displaying an unhelpful message which explained that our request was not possible.
Soon there was a queue behind us, some of them locals, cursing and swearing.
Our inquiries in the local post office concluded that the ATM had been filled up that morning but had been emptied by 10am. Even worse, it would not be filled again for another three days.
We also discovered that this particular ATM has previously been a victim of robbery and that the bank isn’t all that keen to keep it flowing.
How are we going to explain this cash dilemma to our hosts?
Should we take the moral ground and solve the problem by claiming there is no proper receipt?
Should we take our lives in our hands and walk away without paying?
Should we offer to do the dishes and clean out the loos in the rooms?
Thankfully, the issue has been solved thanks to friends who will arrive tomorrow with enough readies to cover our bill.
And that is why Greece’s national debt continues its ascent.