Absurd tax provokes anger

  • 2010-04-07
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - In March, the Lithuanian tax inspection started to demand from those who were unemployed in 2009 payment of 864 litas (250 euros) for compulsory health insurance (CHI) for 2009, i.e. 72 litas per month. Such payment should be made if they were not registered with the Labor Exchange. In case of such registration with the Labor Exchange, the state automatically covers the CHI. This news from the tax inspection provoked public anger. During several days at the end of March, an Internet petition, located at www.peticijos.lt and titled “No to the absurd contribution to CHI,” was signed by more than 30,000 persons. People do not understand how they can be asked to pay for insurance which doesn’t cover them. In case of an emergency, people not registered with the Labor Exchange were paying 2,400 litas to the state-run health institution for treatment. The petition describes the government’s action as “robbery.”

“This law is totally absurd. Contributions to state insurance should guarantee adequate service. However, those who did not work and had no registration in the Labor Exchange, therefore, having no social guarantees, had no right to use the services of health care for free anyway. During each visit to a state-owned healthcare institution, people who have no social guarantees are paying a relevant sum of money.

What should we pay 72 litas for? Is it for services which were never available to us, or for which we paid with money from our own pockets to the state budget?” reads the text of the petition.
Some of those who signed left their comments on the petition. “You shall not steal because the government does not like competitors,” wrote Vaidotas Stankus in his Bible-style commandment.
“Only idiots and cads can pass such laws. People, who hate their own country so much and their own nation, cannot be in power,” wrote Indira Gladkova.

Signature No. 15,256 belongs to Vytautas V. Landsbergis, documentary film producer, writer and singer as well as a son of Vytautas Landsbergis, who was the first head of the Lithuanian state in 1990-1992 and the main creator of the now ruling Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats.
Landsbergis senior, who is now a member of the European Parliament, also published his article on two Web sites, the pro-Conservative alfa.lt and the Catholic bernardinai.lt, blaming the insane decision on CHI to unnamed persons with pro-opposition sympathies who, he suggests, could do this intentionally to overthrow the ruling coalition and to harm the Lithuanian state.

Statements by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte demonstrated that they stood behind the trick with the CHI. During the Passion Week they spoke non-stop during briefings and on TV, making some steps backwards under the pressure of thousands of comments on the Internet. The most popular Lithuanian Web site, delfi.lt, was deleting hundreds of comments per day, probably due to calls to rallies, which had no permission from the authorities, and unprintable language towards Kubilius, Simonyte and the Conservatives, or “the Preserves” as people call the main ruling party, the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats.

The more polite comments were stating that the annual income of zero litas cannot be taxable at 864 litas, and those people who were refusing the government’s unemployment benefits (saving the money of the state budget) and paying (as not registered in the Labor Exchange) extra payments in case of visits to state-run hospitals, should not be forced to pay. There were also statements that the tax is targeting the most vulnerable and defenseless part of society.
Last week the government decided that those who were on unpaid vacations should not pay the CHI, probably due to the fact that many clerks of the government ministries were forced to take unpaid vacations last year.

Simonyte stated that she has no figures regarding the question of how many people should pay this unexpected CHI tax. The daily Lietuvos Rytas gives an estimation of 180,000, while Landsbergis estimates it at 300,000.
During the last week, 41.4 percent of unemployed people registered with the Labor Exchange more than during the week before. The people storming the Labor Exchange offices were saying that they did it because of fear of the CHI payment. This means that the government did some monkey business with the CHI action - the government will be obliged to pay social benefits and to cover the CHI for those who registered with the Labor Exchange. On April 1, the official rate of unemployment was 14.2 percent.

Vladimiras Laucius, political analyst and editor-in-chief of the magazine IQ The Economist who usually supports the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, described this tax as a “tax for nothing” and criticized Kubilius for abandoning the doctrine of “compassionate conservatism,” which was created by George W. Bush and glorified by Kubilius just couple of years ago.