Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By Committee: Eco-tax by the back door?

If the process by which the tourist tax was finally approved involved delivery after a "labour with some pain" (to quote PSOE's Andreu Alcover), might this newborn have arrived into a world in which relatives will be kicking and screaming over its upbringing? Antenatal experience suggests that this will be so. The omens are not good for this Damien of a tax.

The approval process, as we know, required meetings late into nights in order to resolve matters such as how the revenue would be spent. Agreement of sorts was arrived at. Més had to back down on residences for the elderly. Podemos didn't get its preference for the revenue to be devoted solely to environmental ends (or did it?).

An aspect of the tax's legislation - a fairly key one at that - has not received a great deal of attention. Yet. Now that the legislation has been passed, this aspect will assume far greater significance. It is the committee that is to be formed which will decide how the revenue is to be distributed.

Podemos also didn't get all its own way on revenue distribution. It had wanted it all to be allocated according to a proportional system it had drummed up across the four islands. In the end, it was agreed that 60% of the revenue will be dealt with in this way. Podemos did get its way by persuading the government that there should be our old friend "citizen participation" in deciding projects for the revenue to be spent on. A figure of 30% of the total has been mentioned.

Already, as you can possibly detect, the playing of percentage games is going to make the work of the committee more complicated than it was destined to be because of the numerous purposes on which the revenue can be spent. Didn't someone call this a hodge-podge of a tax? Just wait until the committee gets underway, its calculators at the ready, determining percentages for this or that while participating citizens peer over its collective shoulder. Then we'll really find out about the hodge and the podge.

But before the committee ever first meets, there is the not inconsequential matter of who will be on it. And then a further one: who will be its president or chairman or whatever? The potential for a right old ding-dong arguing over these matters is high.

Included on the committee, we know, will be what, in direct translation, are "social agents". These are organisations, associations and what have you that are not governmental. And Mallorca (and the Balearics) have thousands, possibly millions of them: associations for this or that; platforms for and against whatever; groupings, federations, confederations. There are that many that anything they might wish to decide on together will resemble more than just a camel.

But which ones, do you suppose? Do I hear the hoteliers federation? I might, but others will probably be struck deaf. Good odds, very good odds, should be laid on environmental watchdogs-in-chief, GOB, being on the committee. And it is the likelihood that it will be which begins to make one smell something of a rat scurrying around in verdant undergrowth which requires the attention of conservationists.

Firstly, anything which comes with the "sustainable" adjective, which the tourist tax does (law on the sustainable tourism tax), can easily be interpreted in the environmental sense in which the word is often used. Though the tax is not an eco-tax - as we have been told - the chances that it will end up being exactly that are great. Originally, we were led to believe that environmental purposes were not priorities for the tax revenue. The message has altered significantly. Biel Barceló says that the environment will be a priority, which is reassuring, coming as the message does from the tourism minister.

So, will the committee end up ensuring that the tax is an eco-tax after all? It is its make-up that leads me to wonder if the Podemos desire for 100% environmental purpose has really been consigned to legislative long grass. Podemos kicks up a hell of a fuss about committees, their members and their senior officials. The sustainable tourism tax committee will be no different.

I'm not averse to revenue being spent for environmental purposes, but this isn't the point. We are told, and the legislation states this, that there are the various purposes, such as resort infrastructures and tourism promotion. How much of the revenue will find its way to these other purposes?

Clashes will occur. Firstly over the committee's membership and then over how the revenue is to be spent. Too many fingers want their bits of the pie, and so the scope for argument will be enormous. And ultimately, if the revenue is not spent in line with the various purposes because of how this committee operates, who is there to ensure that it is?

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