Monthly Archives: November 2015

Trials and Tributation

Balawat_gates

When it comes to tax I’ve had dealings with the little brown envelopes of Britain’s Inland Revenue – known to its victims as the Inland Revenge – followed by the tricolour productions of the local Hotel des Impots in rural France and now, in Costa Rica, the online taradiddles of the department of Hacienda known as Tributation – which conjures up visions of subject nations paying their dues to heavily bearded Assyrian monarchs, rejoicing in names like Shalmanezer III and Tiglath Pileser the Umpteenth.

My tax affairs here are considerably simpler than they were in either Britain or France….but Tributation is equal to the challenge. While, in my experience, individual taxmen are both pleasant and helpful, those who design tax forms must have been dropped in by alien forces – and when it comes to online forms those alien forces must have originated in the Dungeon Dimensions

Two years ago we had EDDI I. It had a glitch….so you had to go to the central Tributation office to be told how to get round it.
Last year we had EDDI II. It worked perfectly.

Frustrated, the Dungeon Dimensions came back fighting.

You could declare by opening a portal on Hacienda’s website.

Yes, you could open the portal…but apart from inviting you to pay a voluntary tax on your finca – fat chance – there was no provision for declaring your firm’s liability for tax.

Off on the bus to San Jose to Tributation….only to find that since my last visit, they had nattily hidden the entrance to the office down a side road.
You only knew it was there by the presence of a man lopping the top from fresh coconuts to refresh the weary traveler with the water within.
Together with lottery ticket sellers it is an unmistakable indication of the entrance to a government office.

Once inside, I was directed to the kiosk…a bank of computers where staff guided bewildered citizens through the process.

I opened the portal..waited for ten minutes until a member of staff was free…and was told that I could not use it until I had registered our company at the office upstairs.

But it is registered…EDDI II took it with no problems.
Ah. That was EDDI! This is the new portal!

Apparently I had to produce a copy of our company registration, together with an officially stamped paper with the reference number of our electricity supply….

Back on the bus then and into the local electricity board office.

The security man on the door used to work at the bank…so we had a ten minute catch up time…
Then the chap on reception wanted to practice his English.
Then he couldn’t find us on the computer.

Amazing how they can manage to find us for the bill….

Things are, of course, complicated.
We have two meters.

One monitors the supply to our current house – our old holiday house.
It is in the name of the vendor.

We thought about changing it to our own name..but if you change it you have to give up the supply and wait to be reconnected ….yes, the mind boggles and the only reason I can think of is to make work for the staff.
Sucking of teeth of neighbours persuaded us that this was not a good option. You could be, and people have been, lost in the system for months so the meter is still in the name of a lady who lives on the other side of the Central Valley who would need to present herself at the office in order to authorise the issue of the paper.

The other meter services the new house – finally approaching completion.
This is in the name of my husband…..not our company.

One of the kindly ladies found us in the computer…and issued us with what looked like a bus ticket marked with all the details and duly enveloped in sellotape.
In my husband’s name, of course.

On Monday we shall – together – return to Tributation and attempt to pass through the portal.

Potential problems:

A. I opened the portal in my name as I had done the declarations on EDDI.

But –

My name is not on the sellotaped bus ticket.

Still –

My husband’s name is on the company registration certificate:

But –
The said certificate was issued more than thirty days ago – so we might have to belt down to the Registro Nacional and pay for a new one….

And then we might have to open a new portal in his name in order to pay our taxes.

B. Our I.D. on the company certificate is given as a British passport number….while the number on the bus ticket is that of my husband’s local I.D…..
So it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the identity will not be recognised.

In which case, unless we can sort it out before November 30th – effectively during the week to come – we will be unable to make a declaration and thus become liable to a fine of some two million colones.

Now, while I am sure it will all be sorted out – Costa Rican officials being past masters at navigating the shoals of their own bureaucracy – it is the possibility of it not being sorted out which gives rise to sleepless nights.

And all because they made away with EDDI.

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Filed under bureaucracy, Costa Rica, tax

Bring Back Gladstone

candidatesWill it be the man in the suit who buggered up my mobile ‘phone or will it be the one who looks as if he has just been ejected from Tracey Emin’s unmade bed?
The woman who knows all the facts, or the silver haired man ‘who has consented to stand’?
The man who has just hired a bulldozer to repair the road to town which has been impassable for three years – and in so doing has been threatened with legal proceedings by the Roadworks Agency who should have done the work; the woman whose main claim seems to be her extensive family connections, or the man with the clipboard?

Yes, local elections are coming up in February and the candidates are doing their best to raise the political temperature in the area from somewhere near sub zero to something approaching the blood heat of a crocodile in the dark hours before the dawn.

The seven candidates have one thing in common….no, two things: they all want to be mayor and they are all shocked to find that the populace demonstrates a certain cynicism as to their motives for so doing.

Of course, they all want the best for the local people…the cynicism of the populace lies in the determination of who, exactly, counts as ‘local people’…
Is it local people in general, or is it certain people who live locally?

In order to bring things into the open the stringers for the national press organised a meeting, live online, where the candidates could answer questions and express their views.
Needless to say we saw a great deal of the said stringers congratulating themselves on organising the event…and a lot of camera time dwelling on the backdrop with the names of the local businesses sponsoring it…but we did also see the candidates.
All seven of them.

Eventually, things began with a rendition of the national anthem sung with enthusiasm.

As it was being distributed live online only the seriously narcissistic were present to watch the event, which, given past form at council meetings might have been an advantage. (The action on the video starts at four and a half minutes and involves the intervention of the police a minute later…)

Matters proceeded with a rendition of a ghastly ditty celebrating the area and they were off!

The candidates introduced themselves, talked about their families and then answered questions which were of two types: the first being written questions submitted to the stringers and the second being questions about the area and the work of the council written by the stringers themselves.

While the answers to the first batch of questions were the usual mix of wishful thinking and back handed swipes at the outgoing regime I was delighted to find that most of the candidates answered most of the ‘general knowledge’ questions correctly…apart from the one about the number of employees the current regime owns up to which produced a fair amount of wild guesswork as while some are visible and occasionally active others seem to live in a shadow world where only their paycheck is real.

So, whoever we get, the new mayor will have some idea of what he or she will be dealing with.

The same could not be said for Myriam El Khomri, France’s new Ministre du Travail (minister for employment) who made a real ass of herself in a recent television interview.

The lack of stable employment is a serious problem in France
If you are lucky – or started work in the Dark Ages – you will have a permanent contract, a CDI.
If you started work after Personnel Departments started calling themselves Human Resources then you are more likely to have a temporary contract, a CDD.
While the latter are supposed to be only for short term specific jobs, in reality they are about all you can get these days, because they allow employers to get rid of staff without the costly rigmarole of warnings, assessments and compensation afforded the holder of a CDI, and can be renewed without having to be converted into a permanent post as long as there is a break in or change of terms of employment.

There is, of course, abuse of the system.
La Poste holds, I believe, the palm, having employed someone for twenty five years on temporary contracts by moving the unfortunate worker from one office to another….but they are not alone – notably the Pole Emploi (Labour Exchange) in the public sector, the banks in the private, so for the person on a temporary contract the matter of the renewal of contracts is most important.

Not, it seems, for the Employment Minister.

Asked how many times a temporary contract could be renewed before having to be transformed into a permanent contract she dithered and dithered..and finally admitted that she did not know.

Not that it mattered, of course. The next day she said that she had been deliberately trapped…as had other politicians before her..it’s happened before and it will happen again, said she insouciantly.

This from someone who has never held down a proper job in her life.
From university onward she has lived from the public purse…from cronyism… flitting from one political job to another until the need to appease those of immigrant stock who still vote for the Socialist Party arose – and there she was: a woman of Moroccan origins. Ideal!
Does it matter that she has no experience in the field? No.
Does it matter that she appears incapable of acquiring any? No.

Because modern ministers are for the most part figureheads…the policy is decided elsewhere, by the global businesses who now control politicians, and all that is required is to toe the line and accept the handout on retirement from office.

We, the people, do not matter – except as a Human Resource.
And we, the people, have no power except at the changing of the guard called elections when one uniform replaces another to continue with the same policies.

The last Presidential elections in Costa Rica produced a nasty surprise for entrenched power: an outsider came to power borne on people’s resentment of corruption and cronyism.
He says he will not stand again…it has been a constant struggle to start the process of change; setbacks and ambushes at every turn…but there have been changes and people have seen that they could make their voice count and that they can do it again if need be.

I note the way in which Jeremy Corbyn has been demonised in the press; how the New Labour elite are organising to overthrow him as leader of the party…
But many people voted him into that post, people who, like Costa Ricans, had given up on politics. They voted for change once they had the chance.
Voted, like the Costa Ricans, for honesty and competence over entrenched privilege.

Enter Gladstone, monument of rectitude.

In the wake of the disastrous campaign in the Crimea his government resolved to shake up the armed forces…to make them efficient, competent and open to talent. His War Minister, Cardwell, abolished the purchase of commissions bringing fresh blood into higher command….a process gently mocked by Gilbert and Sullivan in ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ in the Major General’s song:

Gladstone shook up the Civil service too…entry only by competitive examination.Goodness only knows what he would make of the tribe of ‘consultants’ leeching the public purse these days….

We need another Gladstone…but unless we combat the influence of global business’ lapdog, the media, we won’t get one.
We need to talk to each other, encourage each other, help each other to bring people back to voting again…to back candidates with whom we do not agree on all points but who are honest and willing to stand up for all the people, not just the privileged.

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Filed under corruption, Costa Rica, elections, local government, misuse of power, politics

Collapse of Stout Party

punch

Popularly supposed to be from a cartoon in the long defunct magazine ‘Punch’ the phrase describes the denouement of a scene in which a person’s confidence subsides like a pricked balloon…but I never came across it in all the long periods spent in the waiting room of the first G.P. I can remember from my childhood.

man in a golden helmet, rembrandt, 1650, oil on canvas
His house was on the corner….a gloomy hedge of laurel giving way to a gravel drive which circled a monkey puzzle tree. You knocked on the door and a maid would direct you to the waiting room off the hall where you sat under the eye of Rembrandt’s ‘Man in the Helmet’ on a chair which creaked with every movement giving rise to disapproving glances from the assembled patients all of whom seemed to be of an incredible age. Apart from the creaking chair, the silence was absolute.

Entertainment was provided by ancient copies of ‘Punch’….probably the least humorous humorous magazine known to man….piled on the table in the centre of the room.
Given the disapproving glances it was preferable to seize several copies on entering the room and pile them on your lap ready for perusal….as you inevitably had to wait for a great deal of time the idea of creaking on and off your chair for one copy at a time was unthinkable.
I cannot say that I was amused by the content, but it was better than the alternatives.
That was an age when a child found to be considering the odder qualities of its elders was considered to be badly brought up so scrutiny of the various types of hats and garments had to be both fleeting and surreptitious, while kicking the legs of the chair was probably a hanging offence.
And one look at the ‘Man in the Helmet’ was enough to put you off art for life.

So “Punch’ it was.
I learned a great deal about the evolution of costume and of transport – rival horse bus companies racing for custom intrigued me. I wonder if these cartoons gave ideas to those who were to ruin the public transport system of the British Isles in later years or whether the whole beastly idea was a product of their own perverted morality…
In particular I liked a cartoon of a stout party gesticulating wildly for the horse bus to pick him up while the conductor observes that he can see him (stout party) with the naked eye.
Yes, I know it doesn’t sound very funny, but it was the best that “Punch’ had to offer and in that time in that waiting room it offered the hope of eventual escape to a life beyond the monkey puzzle where stout parties might gesticulate – or even creak – in total freedom.

Eventually the maid would summon you to Doctor’s presence and you would replace the magazines with due respect to keeping the pile neat before being ushered through to the other side of the hall where Doctor awaited you.
He bore a great resemblance to the Man in the Helmet, which was not reassuring; a view borne out by his repeated attempts to treat earache with warm cotton wool and olive oil rather than penicillin. The idea of wasting such an expensive drug on an NHS patient was more than he could bear….the nations’s finances would have crumbled had he dished it out to the undeserving public patient, no doubt.
Still I have him to thank that, given the results of his treatment, I have never suffered from seasickness since, while others may be thankful that as it is also down to him that I am unable to balance on a bicycle, my lycra clad form has never disfigured the public highway.

All that is far in the past and on the other side of an ocean but it came forcefully to mind today as my husband emerged from the office and sat down suddenly in the chair in the kitchen.

Was he ill?
No…but he had just realised that he had escaped a peril of an altogether different kind.

Since moving here we have become friendly with a chap from the U.S.A….a ticket of leave man whose family trust pays him handsomely to stay out of the U.S.A. with a view to keeping the family escutcheon in the U.S.A. unblemished.
He has, in his time, tried as many forms of excitement as possible: drugs, drink, drugs and drink, women, warfare – you name it, he’s probably had a go at it – though he must be the only mercenary discharged for inappropriate behaviour.
What did he do, I wonder?
Escort an old lady across the road?

Still, be that as it may, he is intelligent, educated and a great talker – or was until recently.
He has always complained that the only women he meets are those who hang about in bars but has never managed to connect this with the repeated experiments in removing them from the bars and installing them in his large house: experiments usually ending in noisy recriminations and vast payments in alimony before he is off to a bar again to find the next candidate.

He broke with his method a couple of years ago….he had had some furniture made for the house and the decorative wife of the carpenter – after due investigation as to his financial affairs – abandoned her husband and moved in with him.

In the time in which they have been together he has acquired eight workers to keep his house and garden in order – all hired by her and loyal to her; his outgoings have risen to an astronomical level and his health has declined to such a state that she has complete control of both him and his bank account.
Given his history she has no difficulty in presenting him as too damaged to be rational on the times that he makes a break for it into town and his doctor is also in her pocket.

She invites people over from time to time…I think to demonstrate that she is looking after him, which, to give her her due, she does….but on the occasion we were invited to his birthday party we found that while there was a marquee on the lawn, bands and drink flowing he – the birthday boy – had been locked in the house: ‘in case he hurts himself’.
Leo had him out of there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but he said himself that he was past help…he no longer had the energy to free himself.
His family would do nothing to help him…they were waiting for him to die and be off their hands. This may or may not be true but as I have no means of contacting them I can’t contradict this.

We were invited to lunch last week – sitting out on the lawn, whence the roof of our new house can be seen across the valley.
She was very interested in the house…how many bedrooms, much big was it, was it bigger than our house in Spain and when lunch was over, unusually, as she normally keeps everyone under her eye, she allowed me to talk to our friend while she took Leo off into the house.
We chatted – his mind was slower, but still there – and I asked him if he wanted to come out when we went; he could stay with us and sort himself out.
No…he no longer had the energy. All he wanted was that she would just stop talking all the time and leave him in peace.

He was tired and went off to bed, so I joined the others.
She had suggested to Leo that it would be nice to visit our friend’s finca up in the mountains and we agreed – if he were well enough. We would check on Sunday to see how things were.

Sunday came, and my husband duly called.

Yes, all was arranged. Our friend would not be coming and she would call for Leo on her quad bike early in the morning as it was a long way.

What did she mean…call for him? Were we not all meant to go?

Oh no…your wife isn’t well so the two of us will go..and don’t worry: if it comes on to rain we can always stay at the house there until morning….

In the deathless phrase of ‘The News of The World’ my husband made his excuses and left….only to sink shattered onto the kitchen chair.

Danilo arrived, and was given an account of the whole thing.

Narrow escape, he said. Your friend’s family will have her out in a dose of salts once he dies, so she’s looking ahead for the next victim. Here you are: quiet guy, big house here, big house in Spain….and she reckons men can’t resist her.
I’d stay off that quad bike if I were you.

But I’m an old age pensioner!

All the better.

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Filed under Costa Rica, relationships