To be early, is to be on time are the words that echoed in my mind when I arrived at the office early on Tuesday morning, ready to begin my time with the Liberty Forum of Greece. But after an email and short phone conversation with my operations manager, I realised I was twenty four hours too early.
Athens is a historically rich city, with its fair share of museums and historical sites all within thirty minutes walking distance from my apartment. Despite signs of the recent economic crisis, life continues as normal for the people of Athens. Although in my short time here, it is clear to me that the people of Athens have been deeply impacted by the crisis. The closure of many local businesses as I walk the streets to the office or for just a causal stroll, is the first and most obvious sign.
For those businesses that are still open, cash is the preferred method of trading. When I enquired why this was the case, I was told it is a result of high commissions set by banks. Additionally, it is the preferred method as cash sales are more easily hidden and businesses won’t have to pay as much tax as they would with electronic fund transfers. Which is the next, albeit more hidden, indication of the crisis.
The highest tax rate I have seen so far was 24%, which I saw on the receipt after dinner on my first night, though it is possible that it’s higher in other industries. These high taxes were put in place to bolster government coffers so that Greek national debts can be repaid to their benefactors in time, without need for another bail out. The few people I have spoken to about this have said that they don’t pay taxes if they can avoid them, not because they do not wish Greece to be out of debt, but because they themselves do not have money to pay them. With an unemployment rate at 23.1% as of last September, it does not bode well for the future of the Greek economy.
The first project I have been given to work on at the Liberty Forum is a mapping task. I have been searching for influential Greeks in Australia and reading about their impacts on its development. Monday morning I shall contact the Embassy and the Chamber of Commerce with Thomas Gazis, operations manager at the Liberty Forum, for a list of Greek entrepreneurs and businesses. For my tasks next week, we will sort through information we are given for what we need.