Two weeks after the budget speech, I still find myself wondering where our government will find the money needed to get South Africa back on track. While we are all relieved that personal and company taxes were not increased as expected, we have to acknowledge that there is a real problem here. It is plain for all to see that our country needs money.
That made me wonder whether there is some genius tax out there somewhere in a far off country that could be the answer. You know – that tax that is fair and reasonable and generates an enormous amount of extra income for that country. The answer to all our problems. Well typing the words “unusual taxes worldwide” into Google brought up some weird and wonderful results both past and present. Let’s hope Tito never does it! Below are a few of my favourites.
Sliced bagel tax (New York)
Yes, that’s correct. If you would like your bagel to be sliced in New York, you have to be prepared to pay the 8c tax it will incur.
Beard tax (Russia)
In an attempt to modernise Russia in the late 1600s, Tsar Peter the Great initially abolished beards completely as he felt it would make Russia more “modern” like Europe. Facing enormous opposition from among others, the Russian Orthodox Church (who believed that not having a beard was blasphemous), he eventually imposed a beard tax instead. The tax could be anything from 1 Kopek (around 14c in today’s money) to 100 Rubles (R20) per annum, depending on whether you were a commoner or a noble. A lot of money in 1698!
Pet grooming and body piercings (Arkansas)
Hoping to keep your four-legged friends nice and neat? Well having your dog groomed, will incur a 6% additional sales tax in the state of Arkansas, US. So will getting a body piercing or having your gutters cleaned. We can’t quite connect these three dots.
Baby naming tax (Sweden)
Swedish parents need to submit their proposed children’s names to the government for approval within three months of the child being born. The Tax Authority may decline the name application if the name is “strange or can cause confusion” and failure to register an appropriate name will incur a fine of up to 5 000 Krona (roughly R8 800). In case you were wondering about names that may cause confusion – in previous cases “Ikea” was declined, but “Google” was approved. Not confusing at all, then.
Fat tax (Japan)
The Metabo Law was introduced in Japan in 2008 to combat obesity. Employers and local governments are charged with doing annual waist measurements of adults between the ages of 40 – 74, including those of former retired employees. Employers face fines if the waistlines of employees, their families and retirees exceed the government’s limits of 85 cm for men and 90 cm for women. While the offending individual will not be fined, they will be referred to a “lifestyle intervention” in an effort to curb weight-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Stolen property (US)
The instructions on a US tax return clearly state that you must include stolen property in your taxable income. Luckily, due to the fact that you may incriminate yourself by declaring it, you are welcome to list it as “other income”. The mind boggles.
These are only a few of the weird taxes you will find if you search for them, but we also came across some bizarre deductions that taxpayers have managed to squeeze out of their local fiscus.
A mom in the US claimed that playing the clarinet helped to correct her daughter’s overbite, thereby qualifying as a medical expense. The IRS allowed the claim based on the opinion of an orthodontist that claimed it may be possible in the long term.
Until 2002, bribes paid in Germany were tax-deductible, provided you were willing to give up the names of who you had bribed and the circumstances of the incident. Bribes added between 20 – 30% of government contracts until the paying of bribes was made illegal in 2002.
Cereal makers (Canada)
Cereal makers in Canada are tax-exempt provided their cereals include a free toy. There is, however, one catch – the toy may not be beer, wine or liquor. Sorry parents!
Ostrich depreciation (Louisiana)
Ostrich farmers in Louisiana may depreciate their birds, provided they are used for breeding.
Repayment of insurance fraud (US)
A dentist in the US was charged with insurance fraud and ordered to pay back the amount claimed fraudulently. She then managed to successfully deduct the repayment from her income as a business expense because it was compensation for the loss suffered by the insurance company.
Studying witchcraft (Netherlands)
Your witchcraft study costs are tax-deductible in the Netherlands, provided the schooling will increase your prospect of gaining employment and earning an income.
Fifa World Cup
Hosting the 2010 World Cup was an opportunity for SA to generate great revenue from the event, not only from increased tourism and economic activity but also from the taxes that these activities would generate. Unfortunately, all stadiums and businesses in the immediate area surrounding them were exempted from VAT as well as income tax from profits for the duration of the event, depriving the Treasury of millions in tax revenue associated with the World Cup matches. Before you get too upset, the “Moving Tax Haven” is a standard demand from Fifa from all host countries. Presumably, the benefits still outweigh the forfeited taxes.
It seems there is room to be creative yet…