25 April 2007

Of dogs, death and taxes

AMERICAN statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying "In this world nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes." After listening from Dr. Monika Ballin, our last speaker in the final session that started at 7:30 pm after dinner, I would add Germans do the latter better than most.

Filipinos view dogs as their best friend, which is a paradox considering their liking for dog meat, which we call "karneng aw-aw" in Sagrada, Pili. In Grandview, two of our three immediate neighbors have dogs, prompting my daughter Pep to egg us to bring one of her grandma Yayang's puppies home. In Naga, vaccinating dogs with anti-rabies is one of the key services of the City Veterinarian Office headed by Dr. Junios Elad, Jr., aside of course from their usual dog-pounding chores.

Well, there are still some reasons to be thankful we live in the Philippines. Because in Germany, one of the 35 different taxes and fees a dog-owning citizen has to pay is the dog tax, levied by towns and cities. It dates back a century ago, when cities teemed with dogs that authorities decided to tax them as a means of discouraging the practice. Just like the champagne tax, it stuck ever since.

Although the rate differs by municipality, a dog tag costs 150 euros (about P10,800) for the first dog and 220 euros (about P15,600) for a second dog. Untagged canines will fetch a heftier fine when caught by authorities.

And why do the various levels of the German government need to do this? Because of a welfare system -- increasingly under huge financial stress -- that provides a sort of "full risk insurance" for their citizens.

"Especially by the end of the 1980s and in the early 90s, it became obvious that the overblowing public administration was impossible to be financed, even with increasing debts," Ballin explained. This set the stage for the increasing attractiveness of a "lean state," a central element of the New Public Management (NPM) philosophy.

But even in Germany and other European countries, NPM is not that widespread, especially at the federal government and state levels. Surprisingly, innovations are more pronounced at the local government level, similar to what is happening in the Philippines. I will discuss this in a later post.