Opinion: Not all drivel

POSTED: 08/1/13 12:55 PM

Okay, so we know that tax compliance is up for improvement. Last time we heard something about this, compliance stood between 30 and 35 percent, meaning that 65 to 70 percent is evading the taxman. It is not a new story, but it is a persistent one. Successive governments have talked about this issue but they have done little to absolutely nothing to fix the situation.

Collecting more taxes stops in the minds of most parliamentarians with attempts to bring in the big bucks from foreigners (remember Shigemoto’s condo tax?) and businesses (remember Tuitt’s alcohol and tobacco tax increase)?

Few parliamentarians have ideas of their own about bringing in more tax revenue, even though this is probably the single most important conundrum on their plate. Whenever a finance Minister presents his ideas, the majority simply approves it like good little sheep, even though it is often clear from the get go that the latest proposals are just another road to nowhere. Maybe our new finance minister Hassink will make a better job of all this. Who knows? The measures he has in mind have not been made public yet, so there is nothing better to do than wait and see.

In the meantime we pick up some signals from across the ocean in the Netherlands – and it’s not all drivel. Two initiatives stand out: the increased control on number plates by the tax office and the use of traffic controls by the police to track down criminals.

To start with the number plates. The Dutch tax inspectorate scanned up to now 924,000 plates, versus 1.2 million last year. At this pace the total for the year will be somewhere around 1.58 million.

These controls go beyond a check for road tax defaulters. The number plates are fed to a database that contains information about citizens with tax-debts and about lease cars that are not allowed to make too many kilometers for private purposes.

The Tax Inspectorate uses four camera-equipped cars to monitor traffic. It deploys the vehicles during neighborhood-actions, traffic controls, on highways en during combined actions with other services.

Talking about traffic controls, Dutch police are using these increasingly to track down criminals. It is a tricky concept because the police have no authority to stop motorists randomly; there has to be a reason. During what looks like a regular traffic control, officers are allowed to stop anyone coming their way. If they want to go beyond the traffic-issues, this can only be done if they ask first for driver’s license and insurance papers.

One option is to search a car, for instance if officers smell marijuana. Another option is to simply ask the driver for permission to search a car.

We are not sure where the buck stops in this field. Is it, for instance, allowed to search a car because the driver simply makes a nervous impression, or because he (or she) is sweating profusely?

In St. Maarten tinted windows are another reason to stop a car, but then the officers must bring their measuring equipment to establish whether the tinting stays within legal limits.

All these initiatives bring one thing to light: the government does not trust its own citizens, a sentiment that is probably reciprocal. As long as there are people that break the law one way or the other – and there will always be people doing that – law enforcement and the tax inspectorate will look for ways to up the ante in attempts to grab more of the bad guys.

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Opinion: Not all drivel by

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