COMMENTARY

By and large most Costa Ricans know this too well, it is part of the culture. Foreigners, especially from North America, coming to Costa Rica however learn this the hard way, “don’t be the first to pay”

The latest is the case of the 2013 Marchamo.

Last month, immediately following the posting of the rates for the 2013 circulation permit by the state insurer, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS), there was an backlash of accusations of “illegal” increases, confused with the protest by the motorcyclists.

The motorcyclists took to the streets objecting to the increased in the “mandatory” insurance portion of the 2013 Marchamo (of which they finally did get a reduction), the rest of the objection was to an increase in the “fiscal” values of many vehicles. The Fiscal is used by the Ministerio de Hacienda (Revenue Ministry) to calculate the annual property tax.

In the end, to shorten this story, the Hacienda rolled back the values by as much as 10% on many vehicles. The Tax people would not say how any vehicles were affected, the Ministro de Hacienda, Edgar Ayales, said in a television interview “not many”.

The minister also talked about transperancy, explaining that in an uncommon move it had published the methodology of the tax calculations, blah, blah, blah, and that “people would gladly pay their taxes if they understood, had it explained to them”.

Hacienda Ministe, Edgar Ayales, always with a smile on his face!

All this is fine, but what about the thousands who paid their 2013 Marchamo promptly and with it the higher property tax? Sorry, tough noogies (my words) was the reply.  “Si usted ya pagó olvide que le van a devolver dinero” (if you paid forget about getting your money back).  Ayalessaid that it really affected only a small number of tax payers, as if this justified it all.

The same occurred not too long with the traffic cameras. Thousands were ticketed only to find out that the use of the traffic cameras was deemed unconstitutional and that the tickets were illegal. For the thousands who paid promptly, again tough noogies, there would be no refund.

I can go on and take up pages of examples such as these, but in the end it brings home just one point “it doesn’t pay to be the first in Costa Rica in anything”.

This is so ingrained in society, in the culture. Being late to a meeting or social gathering without so much as an apology, well why be first? Waiting to the last minute to buy the tickets to say the Lady Gaga concert, driving the promoters crazy, maybe the last tickets will be reduced in price or even free?

What I am saying is that, if you are a foreigner in Costa Rica you have two choices: accept that this is the way of pura vida or frustrate yourself. You could leave is another option. And many I have talked to recently are considering it. In fact, a good friend and associate who has made a living for two decades moving people to Costa Rica tells me half of his business today is moving people out.

Presidenta Laura Chinchilla and whomever will be in the presidential chair in 2014 take note, the “golden goose” is sick and needs attention!

My advice, you are going to make Costa Rica your adopted home, don’t rush out to be first in anything. Wait it out. Subdue that North American impulse to do the right thing and in a timely manner. Wait until the absolute last minute, until you are forced to have to pay. Don’t expect a refund for something you already paid for. And so on…

PS. After first publishing this commentary, read the news that the motorcyclists got a reduction  The rebate, apparently will be added to the obligation of four wheeled vehicles. All the protest paid off. Another commentary for another time!


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