The infinite belief that everything can and should be legislated and everyone will comply

August 31, 2007

One of the things that
has always puzzled and amazed me is the infinite belief in the law exhibited by
Venezuelan politicians on all sides, in a country where there is little enforcement of laws. As far as I can remember, the Venezuelan Congress then and the National
assembly now, created and invented ever more complex and sophisticated laws,
aimed at solving problems and regulating everyday life. Laws were approved and that was the end of that,
not much happened and there was little follow, up as no mechanism was created
for enforcement.

At the same time,
those that speak with authority about following the law, violate it themselves.
I guess this must be part of or endemic to underdevelopment.

Even more puzzling or
intriguing, the people in charge of enforcing laws, seem to have an amazing
capability to come up with new ones, innovating and extending them, as if to
demonstrate their infinite creativity. In the end we have more laws, less
enforcement, as if we were all living in a fictional world of legislative make believe.

All of this comes to
mind because of a variety of events that took place this week which
demonstrate this. I am not even going to include the proposed Constitutional
reform, with all of its populists offerings which will end up in the same
cemetery as the 2000 Constitution, which contains many mandates and promises
that seemed to have been forgotten by those that initiated them, despite their
total control over the life of the country in the last seven years and the
unexpected oil windfall they have had.

But let’s look at some
concrete examples:

Head of the Foreign Exchange Control Office CADIVI
: In wide ranging
statements the head of the Foreign Exchange Control Office CADIVI was perhaps
the biggest violator of the infinite belief in the law I described, as he
complained of numerous violations of current laws, which nobody enforces
(Including the $800,000 suitcase). Among the pearls Barroso said:

“The parallel market
is a distortion which can not be justified”

But it is legal…

“There are sanctions
for the media that publish the price for the black market and its impact should
not be what it is”

The swap market is not
“black”…In fact, if it is so unimportant, why did the Government spend US$ 10
billion in the first four months of the year trying to lower that “parallel” rate (unsuccesfully by the way)?…

“People have obtained
CADIVI travel dollars without traveling”

Or traveled with a bunch of dollars ($800,000) without getting them at CADIVI. Isn’t he the Head of
CADIVI? He should tell us how this can happen and stop it, he should not ask us why this happens!…

“CADIVI has detected
irregularities with the Internet quota…such as generating cash, with
companies that lend themselves to it”

And what has CADIVI
done about it?

His solution to all
this? All of the effort on more legislation, none on the enforcement…

Head of the Tax office SENIAT
: Two weeks ago the tax office published a
list with 2,650 companies which had not paid taxes in 2006, “inviting” them to
come and do a “replacement” filing with the correct taxes.

To begin with, this is
the case of being guilty until proven innocent. The tax office seemed to have
no clue as to whether these companies owed or not taxes and went ahead and made
the list public, paying newspapers (selected ones!) to carry it.

In a country in which
you can net the VAT or where Government bonds are all tax exempt, there can
indeed be many companies that pay no taxes. In fact, that is why many banks pay
little tax since they have so much money invested in Government bonds that at
the end they owe nothing or very little in taxes. It may also be that you have past
losses which you can net against present income or you may just be starting up.

But the worst part is
that the Tax Superintendent has suspended the publication after “discovering”
that there were at least 29 errors in the lists and that some of them are what
is called “special taxpayers” who are continuously inspected and supervised.

But the damage is
done. While the Superintendent promised to apologize to those that should not
have been on the list, there will be no compensation for the bad image given to
some brands or companies for being on the list and many will not notice the
apology. Moreover, this is not what the law establishes, the tax office should
have done its job before publishing anything and it should have done it in

—The new Bill for the
Civil registry (from El Nacional by
subscription): Some bureaucratic genius
with lots of times in his/her hands, has decided that the new Civil Registry
Bill will include a limitation as to what you can name your kids. According to
the report, you will not be able to register your kid with a name which is
foreign or that “exposes your kid to being ridiculed, which are difficult to
pronounce or are a combination of foreign names. To that end there will be a
list of 100 names to be used by registries as a guideline

First of all, in a
country in which kids have so many important problems, this does not seem much
of a priority. But suppose it was. How are 100 names going to cover the
possibilities? Additionally, if it will be discretionary, does it really guarantee

I can already imagine
it, intermediaries offering via Internet to have any name you want accepted. Or
people going omewhere in the interior to do the registry because it is
“easier” over in that town. Or very simply, registrars imposing a “price” on his/her latitude to
assign a name. The wilder the name, the higher the price, of course, this may be
or is becoming a socialist Republic, but the registrars believe in market

But really, one
hundred names? There are some 10,000 saints in the Catholic Church, how can
anyone argue that names there can not be used? (That was the rule in the good
old days). I know they repeat, but I am sure that there are not 100 Saints per
name. And yes, foreigners are exempt, but who is a foreigner? What happens if
a three generation Jew wants to name his kid Amnon or Shamira? What if a name
is on the “list” but is spelled different? Or what if it is the same name in a
different language because the grandmother had that name?

Is it worth all the
troubles, regulations and hassles? And in the end, we come to the same point:
Who the Hell will enforce it anyway in a country where red lights are
precautionary, nobody wears seat belts and you can leave the country with eight
hundred thousand dollars in bills and the Minister in charge of it says that
such stuff does not get checked anyway?

But in the end I
wonder what the people named Lizett, Diogenes, Earle, Dinorah, Axer, Luzmila,
Mizher, Leobrado, Artemio, Betty, Belquis, Belkis, Wilmer, Ysmer, Geovanni,
Diluvina, Samara, Gineth, Amarilis, Ramses, Berkis, Osmar, Lesvia, Ronald,
Hilcry, Argentina, Johnny, Hayden, Aleydis, Dena, Paucides, Grace, Briccio,
Zulma, Arquimides, Oda.,Elis, Balmiro, Iroshima, Hercilia, Fasano, Edelys,
America, Marelis, Noah, Erasmus, Aristalco, Armiche, Yaritza, Iris, Cleotilde,
Malaquias, Oresteres, Lelis, Emiro, Iraima, Liseth, Tiberio, Ender, Eliseo, Rafic
and Noeli will think about this new Bill, surely few of these names, if any, qualify under the proposed Bill.

And you may ask: Who do these names belong to?

They are all names of
Deputies of the National Assembly taken from that institution’s website.

The question is then, what could expose them more to ridicule, their names or actually voting for the new Civil Registry Bill because the party’s leaders say so?

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