No Minister

Sudden, Violent Death – and taxes.

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With March 31 behind us and May 30 ahead of us, ’tis the season for tax returns, and thus the following story which I put forward for your amusement.

Several years ago, working around the crawlspace under a family house, I found an old ammo box. Undoubtedly purchased from an Army Surplus store, this had apparently been a storage space for some of my parent’s papers, all safe, dry and secure. A quick glance revealed that they were mainly old financial documents; packets organised by year and probably returned from the accountant after each year’s tax workings.

I grabbed one at random and dragged it inside the house, but it was not until a few months ago, while relaxing in the evening with a glass of red wine, that I unwrapped the package and began to work through the documents. Most of it was the simple detritus of a farming business life: invoices and receipts from the likes of machinery suppliers, stock and station agents and so forth. But one paper grabbed my attention because it was from the IRD – in those days the Land and Income Tax Department.

Dated 28th February 1948, the letter opens by explaining to my Dad that the money he’d got from the wool and lambs, which had repaid loans without ever touching his bank account, still counted as income. There’s also some stuff about how legal expenses and stamp duty are not tax deductible. This is not America after all.

But then it becomes fun as the Commissioner of Taxes reveals that they’ve reviewed his files and,  (say it in your best Vogon voice) regrettably must inform Dad that upon being released from the armed forces, they had failed to inform him of his pre-war tax liability.

Turns out he owed income tax for 1939, almost a decade earlier. But it was the language used to inform him in the fifth paragraph that got me: a rendition of bureaucratic understatement so perfect that it’s pity that Sir Nigel Hawthorne is not still alive to read it in the manner of his character, Sir Humphrey Appleby, GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon):

My records show, and doubtless you will recollect, that at the time of your entry into the armed forces, there was an amount of £9.17.5d owing by you for income tax in respect of income derived during the year ended 31st March 1939.

…and doubtless you will recollect, …

Sure. While Dad was ploughing through North African sand drifts in his Bren Carrier, getting shot up by a fucking Mark IV, captured, dumped in one fucking POW camp after another through Italy, jumping out of transport trains enroute to Germany, damned near dying of blood poisoning and fuck knows what else on the way to recapture in Yugoslavia and a sort of peace in Stalag IVB before it all mercifully comes to an end, I’ll bet it was never far from his mind that he’d gypped the New Zealand Government out of £9. 17. 5d back in 1939, and that he’d better attend to that quick smart as soon as he got home.

The letter goes on to say that many other service members were in the same boat but have since paid up, that the Commissioner is sure Dad would agree that it would be inequitable if some paid and others did not, and that hardship provisions can be applied if necessary.

Which is all fair enough. But FFS, and doubtless you will recollect.

He also points out that his job is to get all members of the community to pay income tax. That ancient notion also brought forth much hearty laughter on my part.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 10, 2019 at 8:45 pm

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