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Electric Bill Shock for Greeks: Big Surcharges Leave Them Gasping

The National Herald

FILE - A customer checks out signs before heading into a PPC branch in Athens. (Photo by TNH/Andy Dabilis)

By Andy Dabilis

ATHENS – Ioannis Haidinis, an 82-year-old pensioner, did not look happy as he walked out of a Public Power Corporation (PPC) branch office after paying his bill.

“We’re sucker Greeks,” he fumed to The National Herald, holding out his bill to show that besides paying for electricity, he now had to pay a range of surcharges for renewable energy sources, families with children andfees that have brought the bi-monthly costs up as high as 60 percent, depending on usage.

Already buried under seven years of harsh austerity measures agreed by successive governments in return for international loans, Greeks this year are being crushed by an avalanche of new taxes and fees on everything from their beloved coffee to cigarettes and fuel and food, and also sneaked into utility bills.

It was a tactic used in 2011 by the New Democracy-PASOK coalition to put a huge property tax surcharge into electric bills under the threat of non-payment, which quickly became known as Haratsi, a term left over from the Otttoman Occupation when a Sultan could impose a tax at any time for any reason.

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file - Customers wait inside a PPC branch to make installment plan arrangements. Photo: (By Andy Dabilis)

It was also scorned by the then-marginal Radical Left SYRIZA party which in 2015 came to power on the back of anti-austerity promises, including to cut taxes, but which has fallen in line as did their rivals in implementing more, including an avalanche of tax hikes across the board.

“Up until now I was able to afford it,” Haidinis said of his electric bill before stomping off.

Inside, customers were lined up seeking installment payments, some bitterly resentful, others showing a defeated staring face of resignation, worn down by repeated battering from different persuasions of governments: left, right, center, conservative, moderate, radical.

“People are upset and angry with anything to do with the state,” the manager of the branch, who did not want to be identified, said. “Greeks want things analyzed, not concentrated,” she said, adding that the bills give precise details on where the money’s going, even if not for electricity.

PPC corporate officials were unavailable to comment on the new surcharges that have seen some bills even double.

A man who did not want to be identified said his electric bill for two months had gone up 100 percent to more than 500 euros ($537.96) at a time when the government is mulling demands to cut some pensions to a low as 300 euros ($322.78) – and then tax the poor on top of it.

Spyridoula Bitouladiti, 58, also unemployed, uses an electric heater and was standing outside the PPC office handing out flyers for a business.

She said her utility bill for two months came in at 501 euros ($539.04), an amount she couldn’t pay so she worked out an installment plan to pay 28 euros ($30.13) a month on the arrears, but will have to pay new bills concurrently, which she can’t.

BOTH WAYS

“I have to pay in installment and I have to pay the running bill. But I’m understanding because I’m unemployed and those on the bill (getting benefits) are other unemployed and there are refugees too who need help,” she said.

Others are not so gracious and don’t want electric bills used for causes selected by the state. “It should be from other sources,” she agreed.

The change in bills came after the government said it would let off PPC customers who owed up to 1,000 euros ($10758), a decision that cost utility 500 million euros ($537.79 million) as SYRIZA, pummeled in popularity polls, tried to give breaks to the most vulnerable critics said the party had abandoned. SYRIZA also is agreeing to a sale of a 40 percent stake of PPC in a privatization move.

While in opposition SYRIZA supported the provocative “I Won’t Pay” movement, and when it rose to power then energy minister Panos Skourletis had issued an informal order to PPC forbidding it from cutting the power of consumers who owed less than 1,000 euros, although customers now with the new surcharges can also apply to have their payments frozen up to a year before paying again.

Litsa Andonopoulou, 49, a civil servant, showed her bill of 258 euros for two months - it used to average about 146, but this one included 93.65 euros in surcharges. “What can I tell you? I’m in shock and awe,” she said, a mock grin on her face.

As she left with her bill of 130 euros, about a third in surcharges unrelated to electric use, Jenny Markandonatou, 55, a business woman who’s now not working, told The National Herald: “I’m indignant, but what can I do? I’m trying to make a deal to get it installments. They charge more for the add-ons than the electricity.”