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Cyprus

Tax chief backtracks a bit on ‘coffee shop’ comment

HIS remarks to the House watchdog committee on Thursday were not meant as a slight to the tax department’s civil servants, Tax chief Yiannis Tsangaris said on Friday.

In a statement, Tsangaris sought to clarify the claims he made to parliament. Among other things, he likened the situation he found at the department when he took over last February with the mythological Augean Stables – which had not been cleaned for years – and coffee-shop style gossip over taxpayers’ returns, and claimed backlogs dating back to 1980 were holding up proper auditing.

Tsangaris told lawmakers that some 30,000 appeals were still outstanding when he took over, of which 60 per cent have now been processed.

His remarks sparked the reaction of the Tax Department’s staff, belonging to civil servants’ union Pasydy.

In a statement, the union acknowledged “serious problems” but complained that the staff was being unjustly targeted, because these problems were “created in recent years, mainly due to serious staff shortages and inadequate technology”.

“We categorically reject the claim that responsibility for any delays and dysfunction burdens the department’s staff,” Pasydy said.

In what seemed like a retraction, Tsangaris said in a statement of response that “under no circumstances was any remark intended as a slight against the productivity of any civil servant”.

“On the contrary, the gist of the remarks aimed at stressing the huge backlogs created at the department over several years, as well as the giant effort required to resolve all this work,” he said.

“I am well aware that the majority of colleagues share the management’s concerns and ambitions, and make every effort to go through all the backlog. The results of this effort are already visible, which has been stressed to parliament repeatedly.”

However, Tsangaris’ statement included a barb that seemed to contradict the claims preceding it.

“Individual instances [of tax department staff], who, through their actions or omissions, have tarnished the image of the Department, could not downgrade the substantial work done by the rest,” he said.

On staff shortages and other shortcomings, Tsangaris added, management is making every effort to “further strengthen the department, modernize procedures, legislation, and information technology, thus adding real value to all personnel”.

“Our expectation is that, at the end of the road, we can all together build a modern tax system, which can gain the confidence of the public and make every civil servant proud to be a part of,” Tsangaris said.

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