A decision by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI) to waive outstanding annual membership fees from before 2014 as part of its 40th anniversary celebration (see Wednesday paper) at first sight seems like a nice gesture. Especially businesses still struggling to recover from the onslaught of major Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017 with such arrears will no doubt appreciate the removal of this “old” burden and might even be simulated to now pay up for the remaining years.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that these debts were incurred long before then. Forgiving them raises questions as to fair treatment of those that did comply with the lawful obligation to pay their dues in a timely manner, despite perhaps having difficulty to do so.
The same thing goes for writing off tax arrears going back more than five years as done in the recent past. The argument that trying to collect these would be counterproductive in terms of cost-benefit make sense from a practical point of view, but there is also such a thing as the equality principle.
In fact, these kinds of obviously well-intended actions are not without risk and potentially send the wrong message by – to some degree – rewarding defaulters. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but there could be a resulting tendency to hold off on payment hoping there will be a similar “amnesty” in the foreseeable future.
Maintaining a so-called level playing field is key in any free market economy.