08 December, 2009

If 50% compliance with the law is an accomplishment...

…you must be talking about Naples, where a police sting of restaurants, pastry shops, and cafes has found that 28 out of 36 restaurants failed to issue a receipt for purchases. That's not so bad, actually; 47 out of 50 pastry shops and cafes failed to issue a receipt. You read that right: a mere 6% compliance with the law. Welcome to Naples!

The question that comes to my mind is, how on earth do the other 3 stay in business? I don't understand the details, but printing a receipt from the register is part of the enforcement mechanism of Italy's tax laws, and stores are required to print and give them to each customer for each purchase. Sometimes the police hang around outside stores to check whether customers leaving the story have a receipt for their purchase. If I understand correctly, these are members of a special police force, one of whose duties is to enforce the tax laws. One of my boyhood friends made his career this outfit.

It is (in my experience) common for store owners to increase their profits through various schemes to avoid the VAT. Usually this involves conducting business on a pad of paper instead of the register. I was once sent out the back door by owners of a store, precisely so that I wouldn't be seen leaving the shop without a receipt. I didn't realize what was going on at the time; someone explained it to me later. I don't quite know if the customer also runs afoul of the law in this circumstance, but I know that these shop owners were making themselves unpopular by the practice. Across the (narrow) street was a supermarket whose prices were lower and whose clerks never asked you to go out a back door.

Anyway, the title refers to the good news that compliance was much higher in towns of the surrounding province, where 50% of the shops visited issued a receipt.

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