ATHENS – Using the monies from an avalanche of tax hikes his government admitted was aimed at the middle class, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is for the second year giving holiday bonuses to pensioners whose benefits he cut brutally and some of the country’s poor he abandoned after promising to help them.
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos recently acknowledged that the coalition that includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) targeted middle-income people to make they pay for the bonuses critics said are attempt to buy back votes SYRIZA lost when the Premier reneged on promises to restore pay, pension benefits and cut taxes.
The government also built a primary surplus by not paying its bills and that, along with the tax hikes, gave Tsipras enough money to try to mollify pensioners furious at him for agreeing to cut their benefits again on orders of international creditors as well as taxing lower-and-middle-income people and families.
Tspiras said 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion) will be given to at least 3.4 million people this holiday season, compared to the 617 million euros ($719.7 million) issued to pensioners last year.
He said that 720 million euros ($839.84 million) of this so-called social dividend will go to 3.4 million citizens in the form of a one-off financial handout.
Another 315 million euros ($367.43 million) will be paid to pensioners who had been illegally forced to pay health insurance contributions in the period between 2012 to 2016.
The remaining 360 million euros ($419.92 million) will be given to the Public Power Corporation (PPC) to prevent further hikes in the price of electricity.
Last year’s giveaway was done over complaints from the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) that put up 86 billion euros in a third bailout, this one for 86 billion euros ($100.3 billion) he said he would never seek nor accept but did both as his popularity has plummeted to less than 10 percent in some polls.
In a televised address,, Tsipras said the bonuses would range from 240-900 ($280-$1050) euros per beneficiary and come from an expected 1.75 percent primary budget surplus.
That doesn’t include interest on 326 billion euros ($380.26 billion) in three bailouts, the cost of running cities and towns, social security, state enterprises and some military costs or otherwise the debt is unsustainable, as he has admitted.
The country’s finances have been under scrutiny from bailout creditors since 2010. It was unclear whether creditors have approved the new round of Christmas payments.
The major opposition New Democracy (ND) party said the “gift” to pensioners with a return of a part of their social security contributions has already been ordered by the courts.
“The Prime Minister of taxes, Alexis Tsipras, announced that he’ll return 700 million euros from the 14.5 billion euros that he’s lifted from Greeks, bringing the middle class to its knees and making the poor poorer,” was the ND response, the business newspaper Naftermporiki said.
“Mr. Tsipras hopelessly thinks that by handing out gifts from the spoils of harsh taxation that he’ll be able to fool the Greek people,” was the reaction from Democratic Alignment leader Fofi Gennimata.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)