Idiosyncratic Italian Bureaucracy  


The ‘Tributi’ office is entered under the arch to the left of the steps and the windows are to the left of the clock tower.

Every spring I traipse into a thirteenth century castellated building and follow the signs to ‘Tributi’. For many years I climbed up worn stone steps to the second floor, but now they have fitted a slim lift into the stairwell following decades of complaints from the employees. I think those of us who were to pay the ‘tributes’ were still expected to climb the stairs, judging from the expression when we happened to share the limited space.

Over the years I have made friends with the person sitting in the desk – the one exactly opposite the door of the outer room of the ‘Tributi’ section – until he or she is promoted into the inner sanctum or upstairs into another section, and I find a new face looking up from behind piles of paper and now, the computer screen. Not a word, just the expression of, ‘Do you really want my attention? Why can’t you just go to the Post Office and pay?’

My plea is always the same: Can I please pay the full year’s Council Tax and the Refuse one too all in one go? The refuse charge is separate and depends on how far you live from the nearest disposal unit. If it’s more than a kilometre away you are exempt. This led Germans to appeal against the tax, not realising that a single green disposal unit placed dangerously on a bend and with nowhere for the refuse lorry to stop safely, is under a kilometre both from them and us. Their petition was thrown out and they were fined for not paying. I wonder why they didn’t ask advice from the Italians around them.

I hold out the sheets outlining the payment due which regularly arrive at the house when I can’t be there. They are perused and slowly, after much screen peering, I am informed that I can only pay the Council Tax for half a year – with a fine added because I should have paid in December –  I am never there. I can’t pay for the full year because the town councillors haven’t yet decided how much it should be. The Refuse Tax is paid in November and the amount hasn’t yet been decided.

‘Bah!’ with shrugged shoulders. They don’t know when it will be decided. I should use a ‘commercialista’ who will pay the dues for me and then send me the bill with his added fee. No, I want to pay myself. I don’t want to keep this new breed of commercial parasite in business.

‘Why can’t I pay directly from my bank account? A direct debit, like the telephone and electricity bills?’ Amazement. No, the Town Hall doesn’t operate like commercial companies. Why not? More shrugged shoulders.

Not many days ago I walked through the door to the ‘Tributi’ office to find the desk opposite the door empty. The clerk at the other one was on the phone. She looked at me furtively hoping that I was a foreigner and so couldn’t hear that she was chatting to a friend. I smiled brightly and she looked somewhat concerned.

Yes, house tax was due in December. I wasn’t here to pay it. I’m willing to pay for a year and do not want to pay a fine as if I was not wanting to pay. Sad expressions of understanding and more shrugging with the same old explanations that I have heard year in, year out, followed. Pazienza! Indeed, lots of it is required. Then a kind offer. She would, exceptionally, give me her email and promised to email me the amount due in December, and in the spring if I liked, and I could pay through my online bank account. Kind of her. But this was not possible for the Refuse tax. That had to be paid at the Post Office. Sometime in November. Did I come for the olive harvest?

Well, I thought, that was a kind gesture. A pity I couldn’t pay everything together once a year but, in Italy, things were different. So I went down the wide stone stairs aware of all those who had done the same for 800 years and left to buy food for the guests I was expecting that evening.

We were relaxing by the fire, drinking wine and exchanging news.

‘I pay the house tax once yearly,’ my friend told me. How did she do it? I know… so the same town councillors had managed to fix a rate for her, but not for me!

Pazienza! One needs plenty of it in Italy. At home I pay my Council Tax, refuse included, from my bank account for ten months in the year. If I don’t like their estimate, I can appeal. It has just arrived.

Too simple for Italy, it seems.



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