Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Corruption At It's Best!

We are in the last weeks of the Presidency of Juan Manuel Santos, and from an Expat point of view... Good Riddance!, not that the next will probably be any better.

I think Santos reputation is better abroad than in this country, when I first came here, I believed he was trying to do a good job, but I am now far from convinced that is the case. Yes, he was the one that signed the Peace Deal, but where is the Peace? and it is speedily disappearing down the pan, why? because unknown people have been pocketing the funds that were given to pay for the Peace process, there has not been the will to see the process through, and as soon as Santos received his Nobel Peace Prize, he faded into the background, as if he could no longer be bothered, as his tenure was coming to an end.

Also until Santos came to power the Tax Regulations stayed more or less stable, but since he came to power they have changed every single year. Accountants over here, who we are legally obliged to use to submit our annual tax returns, are pulling their hair out, because they have to study year on year, to be able to know the current regulations.

Up until the year I arrived (2012) Expat Pensioners paid no tax in Colombia, then it changed, because DIAN (Colombian Tax Authority) had an informal arrangement with  HMRC (UK Tax Authority) and the same conditions applied as if there was a Double Tax Treaty, and it still does, so the tax paid on my pension in the UK, was deducted from any tax owed in Colombia. On top of that I could claim a variety of expenses, such as work on the house, work on the car, health payments etc. As a result, I have had a zero Tax return.

However Santos is leaving the Country heavily in debt, and as a result the pot has to be filled, unfortunately they see Foreigners as an easy target, and with the rule change this year, I could find myself being stung.

I went to see my Accountant this morning, with all the papers for my annual Return, she informed us (Marcela was with me), that I could be looking at a sizable payment this year, possibly as much as I paid on it originally back in the UK, the reason, they have changed how tax is accumulated, each section has it's own tax rate, and the number of things you can claim against tax have been drastically reduced. She said that she could not be more specific at the moment, because the Training course she went on, the Trainer hadn't a clue, so she is going for a one to one session, with a member of DIAN later this month, and then she will have more of an idea. I know she will do her best for me, but there are limits to the magic she can work. I have been putting money aside each month, but in the worst case scenario, this may not be enough, in which case it could well wipe out all my savings.

I have said to Marcela, that if we are hit by the worst case scenario, we may well have to consider leaving Colombia, where to? we have no idea, we will have to start doing some research, but when my pension only goes up 1-2% a year, and prices are going up 10%, it soon starts to hurt, and then to have to give up to 33% in tax on top of that, is not a joke. We will wait and see what the new President brings to the table, if it's a better option, then we will stay, but if they use us to plug the financial black hole, I will have to consider following the other Foreigners closing the door on their way out of Colombia.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Funny Old Day!

It's been a funny sort of a day, Marcela left home at 7.30am for a meeting of the VeedurĂ­a (Environmental Protection) in Bello, and shortly after I left home to go food shopping in Copacabana, and then onto Bello to buy materials to prepare for the Swimming pool project.

I was going to buy clear plastic sheeting to cover the pool, but it was a 20% more expensive than black, so black it is!

I arrived back home about midday, and then received a call from Marcela before she went to work, she has been dragged out of her meeting by a call from the Planning Dept in Copacabana, regarding the application by 'Enimigo' to legalise the Barbers and apartment above. It appears that he is trying to get our agreement to resolve issues before he is tagged by the Inspection of Urban Affairs, which would save him paying the fines...It isn't going to happen, Marcela has spoken with our other neighbour, and she has said that she will never agree to let things slide, we have been campaigning for over two years to get this resolved.

Unless, he blocks all the windows, reduces the illegal third floor to a minimum of a patio only, then there will be no agreement.

It turns out that he has even produced a certificate to say that the sewerage from the building is piped into a neighbours tank...I don't think so, in fact I am sure not, because the previous owner didn't even know where it went. This has been put to the Planning dept. because without a septic tank, the building can't be habitable, and it has no land to put one on.

Marcela is going to see the Planning Dept, to see what is going on, we have a feeling that 'Enimigo' is trying to do just as we feared, grease someone's palm! So I have told Marcela, that we will put some other spending plans on hold, and use the cash for legal action, but using lawyers and Judges outside the area, so it won't be in the 'Old Boys' network. If it is found that the law is not being complied with, then we will take those involved to Court, including the Planning Dept.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

My Next Project

This project is going to take months, so needs some careful preparation, and it has already got off to a rocky start.

Swimming Pool renovation!  I will be clear on this, we have no intention of refilling the swimming pool during our time here, we don't use it enough, and to be honest, because of that, neither of us has enough interest to  maintain it. so there is always the possibility it will collapse, without water to keep pressure on the sides.

Last night and today, I have been emptying the pool, of what water was left in it (about half), after evaporation and leaks. We had consulted some time ago with the local water company, and were told we could empty the water into the road, as long as it was free of chemicals, and from the number of mosquitoes present, it obviously was.

However doing this seemed to attract some unwanted attention, especially from one of Enimigos, black druggie employees, who decided to take photos, not that I am worried, about that, because I have video of them swilling paint down the road, from when they were working on the illegal apartment.

This is just a clip from the video to show what I mean.

The only people who could take action against us are the Town Hall, but since they have failed in their responsibilities

in repairing the communal septic tank further up the road, and allowed urine etc. to flow down the road for months, I don't think they are in any position to say anything, or at least it gives me ammunition if they do.

Anyway the pump was diverted into our septic trap, and then into the pipe to the stream, we kept checking to ensure there were no leaks in the neighbour's lane below, there weren't, so we were able to dispose of the water.

The pump stopped with about an inch of water left in the pool

This was taken a few minutes before the pump stopped.
I then started bailing out the rest by hand, using a jug and mop buckets, but in the heat, and after 20 buckets, it was exhausting, and getting nowhere, so I talked it over with Marcela, who offered to help when she got home from work, but the shallow end is dry, so I can work on that, and hopefully the sun will evaporate the rest in the mean time.

I have bought myself an oscillating multi-tool, and now the job is to decide which tiles need replacing, and the rest, I will remove all the grout, using the multi-tool, then re-grout the whole pool.

It is going to take weeks if not months, so the intention is to buy enough polythene to rig up a tent like cover over the top, to both give protection from rain, and allow me to continue working even if it is wet. with the pool itself being 6m x 4m that will be a fair expanse of polythene, so I am going to have to rig up some supports. The existing pool cover, would have been too heavy for this purpose.

Once all that is done, the path around the pool will have to be tiled, as the existing path is cracking due to land movement.

Then once it is all finished, we will again consider putting the finca on the market, and moving far  away from here.