Monday, May 12, 2008

Political Distrust

If anyone out there is reading this, I assume you have been waiting with bated breathe for the next installment. I have been working hard to keep the tax coffers full and the country running. We must soon be approaching "tax free day". Although that day is only calculated on Income Tax. If you include GST, Excise duty, Local Authority Rates, Regional Council Rates, Driver's Licensing, Vehicle Registration, and various other surcharges then we are paying tax until well into August. And if you have a mortgage, look at it like this - you are borrowing money to pay tax. If you do eventually see a real tax cut, in the interests of the country, increase your mortgage payments not your expenditure.

But something has really touched a nerve with me recently. Politicians are very trusting of the electorate. Once every three years when we go to the ballot boxes. In between times we the voters are hapless morons who can't even tie our own shoe laces (hence we go bare footed - although that is possibly evidence of us making sacrifices to pay taxes). This arrogance and air of distrust comes through many of the political voices we hear day by day. And it filters down through the Public Service.

As it came due, I put my diesel powered vehicle into a Warrant of Fitness testing facility. Everything tested out okay, and off I drove, with an appropriately lighter wallet. A few weeks later I received a letter from Land Transport demanding I pay additional Road User Charges. Their computer system had picked up that the end odometer reading from the Warrant of Fitness was greater than the end reading for RUC distance paid (smart computer system). The letter was written in such terms that there was a presumption of guilt on my part. I checked out the paperwork from the WOF inspection and found there had been a transposition of a couple of digits. A quick check of the odometer on the vehicle and the RUC label revealed the mistake, and confirmed that I was legal. I wrote back to the obnoxious department (there was not an individual named on the letter to write back to - in fact there wasn't even an invitation to contest the demand) and explained the error and informed them that I would continue to do my bit in purchasing RUCs as they fall due.

I find this obnoxious in that there was an automatic presumption of guilt. Right from the outset there was a high-handed approach rather than a polite reminder or opportunity to explain what was quite possibly an oversight.

I have not received a reply to my politely worded letter.

More recently we have had similar experience.

We came back home from holiday to find a note from our house sitters for my wife to contact Dun and Bradstreet urgently. On the next available work day she did as requested. D&B were trying to recover money she owed to ACC. This was the first either of us knew there was anything owed. She requested evidence this phantom debt. Instead D&B sent us a letter stating they had enclosed some forms for us to complete and return by a specified date. At this point I got involved. The forms included were not the ones stated, and the date for response was a day before the letter was received. I don't want to prejudice the matter as it is still being finalised, but this is persecution.

ACC had picked up from our PAYE, and our secondary business tax returns some way in which it was deemed that my wife owed extra ACC levies. They then proceeded to send demands for this to an address we have not lived at for nearly 7 years. Why they couldn't get our current address from the IRD returns we have furnished each intervening year is beyond me (they need to talk the LTSA to find out who programmed their smart computer system). It took D&B to track us down.

What is so galling is this presumption of guilt again. A bill we have never seen, and which as it turns out we do not actually have to pay, has been sent to a debt collector. I was not very happy about the time it took to try to sort this out (assuming that it is now sorted out) and suggested that ACC should pay me for my time. It is after all an era of user pays.

When politicians claim a mandate for all manner of policies, because they got the most votes or negotiated the biggest coalition, we start to see this arrogance towards the populace. In my reckoning, this started in the mid-1980s, so it pre-dates MMP. The general populace seems to be here to serve the politicians, not the other way round. We get one chance every three years to be thought of by politicians as serving some purpose.

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