Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Soylent Green

In the UK, the Inland Revenue - the government's tax collection agency* and official supplier of red tape to the London 2012 Olympics - undertook extensive research to discover the most psychologically offensive shade of blue-green and proceeded to use it in correspondence with anyone who had the misfortune to have to deal with them. After putting most of my financial affairs in order and leaving the UK, I arrived in Korea with the pleasure of knowing that I no longer had to brace myself each morning for the possible arrival in the post of one of their signature brown envelopes containing its soylent-green letterhead inside.

Today, Korean bureaucracy caught up with me. An envelope from the National Pension Scheme was opened with some trepidation, to discover a friendly-looking cartoon character inside inviting me, through much usage of the word 'please' (as opposed to the UK's Inland Revenue's favoured phrase of "you must"), to declare my monthly income. Helpfully, the letter was in both Korean and English. It seems that in return for paying 9% of my monthly income I'm entitled to various social security benefits (not just post-retirement) as long as Koreans living in my home country are entitled to the same under local law, which I'm guessing that they are.

So we're planning a trip to the local office with my declared income statement - which seems to consist of little more than a single figure. Back home, I'm sure we'd already be up to a three page form plus required documentary evidence, with an accompanying notes booklet written by the same government lawyers who got Tony Blair off-the-hook over Iraq**. This looks like it's going to be suspiciously easy, so I think it just can't be true; civil servants, by their nature, surely have to be insanely officious everywhere. I guess I'll soon find out.

*(slogan - "if we make a mistake automatically calculating your tax return you may be prosecuted")
**(another favoured slogan of the Inland Revenue is "ignorance is not an excuse" - though curiously this is exactly the defence the UK Government eventually adopted with respect to Iraq).

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