ATHENS Dec 12 Greece plans to stop collecting
an unpopular property tax through electricity bills and impose a
unified real estate levy instead, after an outcry over poor
households whose electricity was cut off for failing to pay.
The finance ministry said it would submit a bill to
parliament later on Thursday proposing a new levy on property to
be collected directly by tax authorities from 2014. It said the
levy was aimed at protecting Greeks with low-value homes.
Inspectors from the European Commission, European Central
Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who arrived in Athens
this week to resume a review of the country's bailout programme,
had approved the bill, a finance ministry official said on
condition of anonymity.
The controversial property tax was introduced as a one-off
measure in 2011 to help the country raise revenues as it
struggled with a deep recession. The government has extended it
through 2013 to the dismay of austerity-hit Greeks, who have
suffered several rounds of wage and pension cuts.
The property tax and a second, smaller levy on real estate
assets brought in about 2.9 billion euros ($4 billion)annually.
Athens expects revenues to fall to 2.65 billion euros under the
new unified levy, the finance ministry official said, and to
offset the projected shortfall, the government will cut its
public investment programme by 200 million euros.
Leftists and anti-austerity activists have railed against
the property tax since its inception, saying it is unfair and
burdens the poor.
The tax was back in the limelight earlier this month after
at least three people died in accidents as they tried to keep
warm by using charcoal grills, wood stoves or candles after
their power had been cut off.
That prompted authorities to promise to restore electricity
to homes and the energy ministry said 2,000 households had
already had their power supply restored.
($1 = 0.7271 euros)
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; writing by Renee Maltezou;
editing by Andrew Roche)