Am-Cham and ministry want consumers to report illegal sales

The Ministerio de Hacienda stops short of declaring war on the underground economy Thursday.  Officials announced a Web site where consumers can do it.

The site was created by the Cámara Costarricense Norteamericana de Comercio with the support of the ministry.  Officials announced the existence of the site Thursday.

The idea is that citizens will report the sale of untaxed goods. The government claimed that such evasion costs the country $100 million a year.

As of early today there were four reports on the web. Two were for untaxed cigarettes, and two were for untaxed alcohol, according to the graphics there.

A November survey by the Cartago-based Technológico de Costa Rica showed that less than 2 percent of respondents said they had reported merchants who evaded sales tax. That’s because both the consumer and the merchant benefit from such evasion. The same is true with untaxed products. The prices are cheaper.

To counter this reasoning the ministry noted that the products that have been taxed and entered the marketplace the legal way have a guarantee of quality. Vendors who evade sanitary controls put the consumer’s health at grave risk. That is true with cigarettes, alcohol and medicines. Police frequently stop truckers who are transporting such illegal merchandise.

Costa Rican officials are planning to replace the 13 percent sales tax with a 15 percent value-added tax. That will generate more underground economic activity.

The chamber known as Am-Cham is sponsoring the project because illegal sales can undercut legal merchants.

The ministry also said that those who deal with merchants who cheat are probably dealing with organized crime.

The device is designed to be friendly with smartphones and tablets. There is a geopositioning system built into the Web application. The report of illegal activity shows up on a Web site map as a round circle at the place it was reported.

The government has created a Comisión mixta permanente contra el Comercio Ilícito, and the Web application is the first step, the ministry said.

Am-Cham announced the results of its own survey that showed 63 percent of the respondents said they purchased illegal goods.

This is the logo for the campaign.

This is the logo for the campaign.

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