What The Lord Giveth, The Government Taketh

By John Holtz*

It is difficult to bring the holiday season to an end in Costa Rica and it does not go away slowly either.
Although officially we have had months of festivities from a remarkable December 11th parade of lights to the Zapote bull riding event. And, to a lesser extent there will be more to come until the first days of February when we get back to the norm, if there is such a thing in Costa Rica.
In the event the person has not completed a full year of employment, the alguinaldo is pro-rated accordingly.

Even top executives, by law, receive the 13th month bonus and that can be a substantial sum. However, for the most part employees depend on that money to purchase gifts, perhaps pay some bills, go out to eat, to celebrate.

Regardless, of the amount, the concept was designed to eliminate the subjective, arbitrary Christmas bonus as is applicable in the United States and to assure all workers of having money on hand to enjoy the holidays.

This is a labour law of Costa Rica and the reason employers have up until the 20th of December to make payment is that many employees tend to quit once that check is deposited.

What was not anticipated and what I believe needs addressing is that every year and especially this year a good chunk of this holiday money goes to the government because the government knows it is mostly likely there for the taking.

It is sort of like the Lord giveth and the government taketh.

This year, perhaps more than in the past.

One million or so cars must pay the INS Marchamo, ironically from November through December plus all outstanding traffic fines which are certainly outrageously expensive and with court costs, might take one month’s salary right there.

Many families had to cut back or even eliminate gift giving since the cost of the Marchamo and $400 traffic fine ate up the alguinaldo benefits.

What would be so hard in breaking the Marchamo as well as exorbitant fines into a pre-arranged payment periods? And, we only have a de facto traffic law at best where the fines and penalties have, as yet, not been etched in concrete.

Ah, and income taxes are due during this festive period.

Immediately following the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2011 we have a whole host of new rate requests and costs from buses, taxis, luxury home tax, water, electricity, ICE and my personal favorite, Autopistas del Sol. And, we cannot forget that those un-defined traffic fines have also been increased by 7.45% in 2011.

There are many other factors that eat up the beauty of the alguinaldo and it seems unfair and not justifiable that the government which is aware that workers who are finally flush and then makes every attempt to get that money in its coffers instead of into circulation as it was originally intended.

As on politico jokingly said, “You are right, but we keep the money out of the hands of thieves who are disposed to rob these people.”

I replied, “but sir, you are the thief.”

Another case were altruism is getting snuffed out.

Reprinted with the Permission of the editor of Inside Costa Rica

*John Holtz is the Executive Director of the Center for the Studies of Modern Management (www.modernmanagement.org)

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