From the sky above, taxman cometh

From the sky above, taxman cometh


Blog, Japan, October 26, 2007: We have to pay one thousand and one kinds of taxes in Japan, just as Ali Baba and Sindbad of Arabian Night used to surrender their hard-earned dirkhams to merciful Government of Khalifa Rashid ud-Din. Then, in Baghdad, all tax jobs had been outsourced to tax contractors, while we in 21st-century Japan outsource our affair to tax accountants. Not much progress since when Abbasid Baghdad flourished, is it?

One of the most cumbersome taxes in Japan is, definitely, the property tax. If one builds a new home, he has to register this property to local land registry office. Without this registration, your home would stay in the virtual domain and be worth as much as the fancy building in virtual Second Life.

Then, local Government assesses your registered property and sends a hefty property tax bill to you every year. You build a tiny do-it-yourself garage on your plot? Or a toolshed? The same thing. Even a rabbit hatch for your pet rabbit, you have to register.

Tax hunters from local tax department constantly cruise the neighborhood and report any suspicious building activity. Found red-handed, property tax bill comes promptly with a threatening letter that says: “Register the new building immediately or you’ll be forever incarcerated in dungeon!”.

Of course, there are brave cheaters, too. People extend their kitchen just a little bit and intentionally forget to report to the registry office. If the new annex were hidden behind the dense shrub and couldn’t be seen from the public access road, tax hunter might fail to notice. They manage to cheat a bit of property tax, say, a buck or two, and local Government loses the chance to grab the same amount.

This would be outrageous and no self-righteous local Government could stand this kind of outright chicanery! Wait, there is a good way to combat against these hooligans.

Tondabayashi-City in the fringe of greater Osaka has been offering extensive computer map service (GIS, Geographical Information System) to its inhabitants, not unlike the Google Map. City tax hunters modified this system for finding their overconfident prey with their pants down.

But how? Oh, it’s the simplicity itself. Exactly the same modus operandi as the astronomers all over the world do everyday. By laying two
images, before and after, one on top of another. Thus they could discover new asteroids, comets and supernovas.

This property tax-hunting software was developed by a software house, Informatix.
Since the introduction, city taxmen have found more than 5,000 suspicious new buildings in their jurisdiction. Excluding temporary shelters or the likes, they managed to brand almost 500 unregistered and taxable properties. Nearly a million dollars worth of tax income for the local Government!

Of course, CNET readers would ask immediately: “Why didn’t they use Google Map or other public domain computer maps for this purpose? Would be far cheaper!” Unfortunately, city taxmen can’t control the timing and frequency of map update even though they wanted to go Google. Tondabayashi-City needed to update images with exactly a one-year interval. Yes, they had to utilize aerial photographs instead of satellite pictures.

I’m afraid the Tondabayashi scheme will become popular and propagate all over Japan soon or later. But, still, some loopholes are left for tax cheaters. Since it’s rather hard to interprete the vertical distance with an aerial photo, an addition of one more floor could not be easily detected. Tondabayashi would need a lot of side-view aerial photos and extremely difficult software. Also, building underground annex can’t be found at all. Ah, well, it’s not worth it. Pay up your dues, guys!