Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Camel To Design A Camel: Tourist tax

How many government departments, local authorities, business associations, unions and others does it take to change the cash collected from the tourist tax into meaningful projects? In order to change the light bulb switched on by the flash of governmental genius behind its introduction into hard-and-fast attempts at saving the environment requires mostly the whole of the Balearic public, private and voluntary sectors. Or this is how it appears.

The grandly titled Commission for the Promotion of Sustainable Tourism (aka the commission which decides how the cash is spent) has met for the first time. What a shame that Palma's Palacio de Congresos is yet to admit participants. There must surely be a need for somewhere as vast in order to accommodate all the tax-spending decision-makers.

For the record, the commission consists of: Biel Barceló, its president and the minister for tourism, innovation and research; Catalina Cladera, the finance minister; Pilar Costa, the minister for the presidency, as in being the spokesperson for the Balearic government and running the mysterious ministry of the presidency (Armengol's that is); Iago Negueruela, the minister for employment, trade and industry; Vicenç Vidal, the minister for the environment, agriculture and fisheries. Any more ministers? Erm, no, though why they haven't just chucked the whole cabinet at the commission is a mystery. Education, transport, social services, health and the bizarre participation, transparency, linguistic normalisation, culture and sport mini-mega ministry must presumably want their say as well. Everyone else does.

It doesn't stop with ministers. Oh no, that would be far too non-participative and consensual. There are also representatives from: each of the four island councils; Palma town hall; the Felib group of local authorities; the CCOO and UGT unions; the Confederation of Balearic Business Associations and the Pimem association of smaller businesses; the inter-island agricultural council; the University of the Balearic Islands; GOB, the environmentalists; Amics de la Terra (Friends of the Earth), also environmentalists; Arca, the association for the preservation and recuperation of old urban centres. Any more? Probably. 

Following its first encounter, this camel of a commission, which will design the camel that is to be the way the tax is spent, is to be subject to an evaluation by the government as to how the meeting went. Is the government to form a commission to evaluate the commission? Which parts of government will be conducting the evaluation? All of it or only those parts represented? We must know. Everything is in the name of participation and consensus after all. Oh, and talking of which, let's not forget that the commission (the one for the tax and not the one doing the evaluation) is to be helped by the citizens. They will be making proposals as to how the tax is spent. How many of them will there be? Who are they? Am I living next door to one? We must be told.

Let's just get this into perspective. We are talking about a tax that will raise some 40 million euros this year, a figure that may or may not double in 2017. In the scheme of tax-raising and revenue-spending it isn't chicken feed but nor is it exactly gargantuan. Give or take several million, it equates to less than one per cent of the total annual budget of the Balearics. What other tax and its spending is subject to such involvement? None, unless one counts the fact that 59 parliamentary deputies typically oversee decisions regarding the islands' tax spending, most of them - oddly enough - not actually on the commission.

Why, therefore, does the tourist tax require its commission and its vast membership? An answer is that its spending affects (as in being designed to benefit) all members of society. Really? Is not spending on, let's say health, intended to have a similar benefit? Ah but, this is the Balearics' very own tax, not a state tax such as income tax or VAT. Our own, our very own tax, directed at all of we citizens, from wherever we may come, with our participation but minus any input from those who are actually paying it.

How transparent will all this be? Highly, because transparency is a current mantra: one to be walked as well as talked. Beneficiaries will be transparent, because they are all on the commission. The university? Because of Barceló's undefined desires for innovation and research as they combine with tourism. GOB? It's the environment, stupid, to which most of the spending in one way or another will go. Arca? Heritage preservation. The inter-island agricultural council? To ensure that the not-so chicken feed of the tax is spent on chickens and related matters. The employment ministry? Because of the spending to improve training and quality of employment in the tourism industry. On and on it goes.

You never know, they might actually spend the revenue wisely.

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