Friday, April 03, 1998

The taxes we have to pay

It is time for payment of income taxes and I have just complied with my duty as a citizen. I must admit that compared to what I would have paid elsewhere, I personally did not have to pay an exaggerated amount of tax. Why is it then, that I am not satisfied? Could it be that it is because I am being eaten away inside by a suspicion, already bordering on certainty, that my country would be better off had I not paid taxes at all?

On the same day I finished struggling through my tax forms, I read in the press about PDVSA´s fiscal contribution for 1997. This contribution amounted to all the Bolivares in the world. Upon cranking the numbers on my calculator which went into an exponential mode, I found that this boils down to a contribution per capita of Bs. 200,000 for every Venezuelan citizen, rich and poor, young and old.

I imagine that in the international world of taxation, these Bs. 200,000, which translate to US$ 400 per year, don’t qualify for a position at the top of the list. If, however, they are expressed in terms of some of the public services offered, these figures are numbing.

Every retired Venezuelan, those we hold dear to our hearts and affectionately refer to as “los viejitos”, is due to receive Bs. 50,000 per month in retirement pay. Using the technology provided for by modern accounting, i.e. re-expression, we can affirm that every Venezuelan, rich and poor, young and old have contributed, via the cession of his or her portion of oil income, an equivalent of 4 months of retirement pay to the nation’s coffers. These figures would undoubtedly qualify us, as taxpayers, for mention in the Guinness World Book of Records.

All of this is before we even get into what we all pay in sales tax, (VAT) which by law must not be specified in the final sales price of any product. This only hides even further the magnitude of the buyer’s contribution to the above mentioned coffers. Is this restriction due simply to bad conscience or to outright hooliganism? I will let others decide.

And all of this before we include the other hidden taxes such as the sky high telephone rates we must pay because the nation has sold concessions at elevated prices in order to raise fresh resources. Authorities (in this case Conatel) have already gone on record as stating that during the next bid for a concession of a cellular phone system, we “must not commit the same mistake of selling it cheaply, in obvious detriment of the interests of the State. We must try to get more than US$ 100 million for it”. Obviously, those US$ 100 million must be repaid by the end user, by way of higher tariffs. Obviously, nobody has considered the right of the common citizen to be able to communicate economically. One of these days it will occur to someone to announce the letting of a concession for pure air.

And all of this before we include the hidden taxes represented by the abominable public services we receive.

And all of this before we include the immense contribution of a healthy portion of the physicians, professors, teachers and other professionals that work and comply with their obligations, earning pay that is well below what it should be.

And all of this before the contribution of companies in the form of taxes on assets, which must be paid whether the company is in the black or in the red and which ultimately find their way to the final consumer.

And all this before we consider the astronomic taxes incurred due to a string of devaluations, the impact of which is proven when we see that never, before or after Columbus, has the public sector been so large in comparison to the private sector. The essence of any neo-liberal model is the reduction of the influence of the public sector on the economy. The tropicalized interpretation of this model by our government officials has allowed them to get rid of all that has become obsolete, that is causing them problems or even worse, that requires investment. It seems that their dream is to keep all fiscal income but without any of the corresponding obligations.

This series of inexhaustible fiscal contributions, voluntary and involuntary, evident and occult, is justified by the threat that, should we not pay up, we will have a monster deficit, inflation will eat us alive, and along with these two specters the big bad wolf will get us as well. Ladies and Gentlemen, inflation has been around for many years and the wolf has been here for some time. It seems to me he is dressed up as the taxman.

Venezuela’s problem cannot be found on the fiscal contribution side of the coin. Venezuela’s problem is found, with crystal clarity, on the fiscal spending side. This is why, by paying my income tax, I could be causing damage to my country. Something like giving drugs to an addict. Something like giving an alcoholic a bottle of rum. Something like treason.

The next time you see a dirty, tattered and hungry child abandoned in the streets without hope, remember that he has also contributed Bs. 200,000 to the Venezuelan State in 1997.