When you’re a young working person, say between the ages of 15 and 21, you don’t really know much, not anywhere as much as you think you do. I remember when I started working at a kart circuit in 2000 at a rate of £3.50 per hour, I was 15. “Dad!” I shouted “look at how much I am getting paid!” He smiled a patronising smile and told me that in reality it wasn’t very much but hey, for a first job it was ok as a weekend time-filler.
You don’t really know about the ins and outs of taxation when you’re 15, nor do you know any more at 19. At 19, still working at the same place, I was on a very low salary, but because I had somehow become a grown up at some point it meant that I was eligible to pay 23% income tax each month. Things were made very easy in that the money was deducted from my wages before I even saw it. It used to make me very cross. Why did I have to relinquish nearly a quarter of my wages each month? Where did that money go? I worked at the same place until I left to come out here to the UAE when I was 23. Every month my small salary was obliterated further by the necessity of income tax.
Of course I was blissfully and ignorantly unaware that when I was filling my car with petrol at BP three quarters of that was taxation too; as was the invisible VAT I was spending on penny whistles and moon pie. It was all kept out of sight along with Tony Blair’s other million different stealth taxes. I was certainly paying my bit towards the Millennium Dome. Anyway, there are no such issues in the sunny Emirates. Or are there?
When I return to London each year I am constantly told by everyone that I don’t have to pay tax. And it’s true. I don’t pay income tax to the British treasury because I’m an expatriate. You can’t catch me George. But don’t think for a second that I don’t pay tax at all. I do, we all do. It surprises me how many people who live out here don’t realise.
Anything can be something else but for a name. There are certain words like “fee”, “charge”, “administrative costs”, these are all just alias’s for taxation. Tax is Bruce Wayne. There by day, known by all as a constant in life wearing beige trousers and drinking tea served by a butler. It’s the only guarantee in life along with death. Fee, charge, administrative cost, these are all Batman. They sound so much cooler and sophisticated and generally surface at tricky times. But whichever way to cut it, they are essentially the same thing.
Hotel’s lace their bills with Batman-isms. How much of that 10% service charge that automatically gets added to your bill do you think goes to the waiter or waitress who spilled Carlsberg on your head? And what about the 6% tourism fee? I have a visa and a labour card, I’m no tourist but still I have to pay. Then of course we have the alcoholic beverage charge, an additional 10%. So for just one pint of lager that is priced at AED 23 you have to add 26% on top of that. Just up the price and be done with it, don’t break it down for me. Out of sight, out of mind. 10 pints in and I really won’t mind too much.
Then we have the banks. Every card payment you make costs the vendor 3% in bank fees. Of course it is illegal for the vendor to charge the customer that 3% extra so he loses out. Who gets that 3%? Where does it go? It’s all totally bonkers.
Make no bones about it; the UAE is no different to anywhere else about such things. One thing that this proves however is that the UAE is playing a smart game, it understands fully that as the population continues to grow, with locals and expats alike, it will not be able to subsidise us all forever. Whether its in 10 hours or 10 generations, things will have to change.
The oil is running out, alternative fuels are being championed and the UAE’s primary export is not going to put goats on the table forever. Tax is inevitable, no civilised country in the whole of human history nor in the future can or will survive without it. Don’t talk to me about Monaco being tax-free, €30 for a 330ml can of Coca-Cola…do the maths. What I like about how the UAE is doing it is the whole cloak and dagger aspect. They are not taking it out of our salaries, which they know will upset us. They are dressing it up in fancy syntax and adding little charges on effectively everything that we buy.
We therefore accept it as part of the norm. There’s no point complaining about it because who do you complain to? Ultimately it is for the better. When things start to get a bit tougher (or real) there will be no sudden surprise of “and from Monday you all lose a third of your salaries.” Our contributions made in tourism fees at Barasti Bar and the Belgian Café should have been sufficient for a decent sized nest egg…hopefully. Apparently I am in a stark minority with this interpretation, and only tonight I heard more moaning at innocent waitresses about 6% this and 10% that. Leave them alone. You are far better off here than you are back home so calm yourself.
It is my observation, then, that there are still a lot of people over here who haven’t yet worked out that Bruce Wayne is actually Batman… Come on, have you ever seen them together in the same room?