Sun, 06 Mar 2005


Caught by lack of fine print in exit tax regulation

"Sorry Miss, you are not eligible for the exit fee waiver," a tax official at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya said, to my astonishment.

Before coming back to Indonesia for a holiday recently, I had made sure that I met all requirements to be eligible for a waiver of the Rp 1 million exit tax.

The immigration officer at the Indonesian Trade and Economy Office (KDEI) in Taipei had told me that all I needed was an official stamp from the KDEI registering me as foreign resident of Taiwan, and I would not need to pay the exit fee for the permitted four annual visits to my home country.

So why was this official saying these things to me?

He told me that because I had been in the country for more than 183 days this year, despite the stamp in my passport and the Alien Resident Certificate from the Taiwanese government, my status as a foreign resident had yet to be legalized.

Not fully knowledgeable about the government regulation on this matter, I took the words of the tax official at face value and got ready to pay the exit tax.

It was lucky that I noticed a copy of the regulation pinned on the bulletin board next to the Exit Tax Waiver booth at the airport. Government Regulation No. 42/2000, amended by Government Regulation No. 41/2001, stated that it was compulsory for all Indonesian nationals and residents leaving the country by air to pay an exit tax of Rp 1 million.

It also went on to say that those exempt from this regulation included Indonesian citizens resident in a foreign country who possessed a legal ID card of that country and did not receive an income from Indonesia -- as long as they were in Indonesia no more than 183 days within a 12 month-period, and that the waiver was given only 4 times in a single year.

It was clear then that the tax official had made a mistake, so back I went to the Exit Tax Waiver booth, this time lining up for a different tax official.

Those who have faced a similar situation could certainly guess what happened next.

You got it! This second official noticed that my passport had already been processed at the booth and I had yet to pay the exit tax. He started to give me the same spiel as his colleague when I interrupted him by reciting the regulation word for word.

This second tax official asked me to step into his office so he could give an explanation.

"To make it easier for us to count, we start calculating (the 183 days) one year before the date of departure," he told me. This meant that since I was departing on Feb. 19, 2005, my 183 days would be counted from Feb. 19, 2004. He then proceeded to calculate how many days had lapsed from the immigration stamps in my passport, and claimed I had been in Indonesia 194 days during the year.

Naturally, I protested. Regulations were not created to make it easier for the tax officials to do their jobs.

I explained and showed him that I had become a foreign resident on Oct. 15, 2004, as indicated by the KDEI stamp in my passport, and pointed out that the waiver application form only required the date of my last entry into the country and the date of my departure, and that it mentioned nothing about counting 12 months backwards from the departure date.

I even told him that on the many other occasions I had gone out of the country, I had duly paid the Rp 1 million tax as a good citizen should.

Well, as I expected, the tax official took no notice of my protests and stuck to his retroactive argument.

Many people I told this story to said that at this point, I should have settled the matter with a couple of Rp 100,000 bills, or said that I was stupid for not waving my press ID around and threatening them with media coverage.

Well, I should never have to resort to those means in the first place, should I? Or was that how this country worked -- that the people are trampled on by the very people who were supposed to serve and protect them?

As boarding time was drawing near and I had no more arguments left in me, I finally paid the Rp 1 million exit tax at the Exit Tax Payment booth next door.

On later scrutiny of Government Regulation No. 42/2000, I finally understood how wide open it was for interpretation. Not once in the text, or even in its explanation, does it explain how the 183 days were to be counted, so it might have been 12 months prior to departure after all.

After my encounter with the rigidity of the Juanda airport tax officials, imagine my vexation when a friend told me of how lax the tax officials at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport were; so lax that they did not even bother to check whether he had a foreign resident stamp making him eligible for an exit tax waiver.

Well, then. It may have been my fault after all, and I have certainly learned my lesson. I never should have left the country via Juanda International Airport.

Obviously, the tax officials there are taught creative mathematics as part of their training course. -- Tantri Yuliandini