Back in April I wrote about trying to extend my agricultural tax exoneration. link In June I returned to the Ministry of Finance (MEF), with Mayra and her sister Dina, a new, fresh out of law school lawyer. I wanted to be sure all the ducks were lined up to resubmit in July.
MEF provided a list of needed documents and the said bring them all back in late July to get the job done.
Here is the list of steps from April.
1. Visiting MIDA in Boquete to get a list of things I needed.
2. Going to the Registar Publico in David to buy copies of the records on both the corporation and the finca. Pay and return the following day.
3. Going to Catastro to get paperwork from ANATI that the land in titled to the corporation. Free but return the next day.
4. Taking all of that, a copy of my visa and passport to MIDA in David where they provided a slip of paper to take with the pile of papers to MIDA in Boquete.
5. Scheduling and having and inspection in Boquete, wait a few days depending on availability of an inspector.
6. Having the entire pile of papers with the inspection report, signed and stamped put back into my hands to take back to MIDA in David. Return the following day for the Director’s signature.
7. The final step go to MEF, the Ministry of Finance in David where they decided they not only needed the signed, stamped document from MIDA but also the originals from ANATI, the Registro Publico and a document from a lawyer since the property is in the name of a SA not me.
8. The funcionario at MEF, logged in to the system and said, oops, too early you need to wait until the month of expiration, one in July, one in August and you need all fresh documents at that time. The signed, sealed and delivered documents all have a shelf life of no more than thirty days.
The updated list added one more document, a power of attorney from the corporation signed by the president and authorizing me to make the request for the corporation.
I went to see my lawyer in Boquete, Julio Espinosa, to ask for the power of attorney. I had no idea how to draft one that MEF would accept. Julio being more thorough than most, contacted MEF himself to confirm what was needed . They added still another document, a solicitation from an attorney also requesting the exoneration.
Julio advised me to have the power of attorney and copies of the documents from the registrar notarized in Boquete. I assured him that I was told the registrar documents did not need to be notarized. I did get my signature on the power of attorney notarized in the Municipo in Boquete .
Julio also suggested he be the one to take the pile of paper to MEF. I resisted because I thought I had it all together. I wanted to do it myself so I understood the procedure. He then said that since he would be in David anyhow he would meet me at MEF.
We arrived and Julio and turned out to be correct. Suddenly late in July meant July 31, not July 19 for one of the two properties. Then after plowing through the documents we were told the photocopies of the documents from the Registrario Publico needed to be notarized, Julio was correct, so we went off to the notary.
In Panama notaries are a different animal than in the US. In Panama being a notary is a very profitable political appointment. Apparently it is traditional, whether legal or not, for the Notaries to purchase their five year positions from the government. There are various notaries with different authorities, the one in the office of the Junta Communial in Boquete is limited, but she can notarize signatures and copies, and some transactions under $5000. She exists because Boquete as a district does not have a real Notary. If she cannot handle the transaction you need to go to David where there are at least two notary offices, one across from Cable and Wireless and the other next door to the Registario Publico. We chose the later, and joined the throngs inside. It took about thirty minutes to have the copies we provided stamped and signed, the cost $5 a copy.
Back to MEF to resubmit the documents on one finca and get all the official stamps. Then we hit ALTO again. This functionario, not the same one who sent us to the notary, another, said, “I am not sure the official notarized copies will be accepted in Panama City, I will call to check.” She vanished for a while and came back saying, yes they will work. Who knows, the person in Panama City she spoke to might not be the one who gets the pile of papers, so they may still come back marked return to sender, address unknown; Elvis please sign the refrain.
I did glean one useful factoid. The last government was reluctant to provide an exoneration on small farms, it took great effort to get the signature of the Director of MIDA five years ago. This time the Director of MIDA had no issues at all. At MEF I was told this government wants all agricultural land exonerated. In fact it was suggested I do still one more segregation to remove more land from the tax rolls. Who am I to argue with that offer, so soon I will write about the experiences that will emerge from this new endeavor. For now you can join me in smelling the coffee that might turn out to be a little less expensive with lower taxes.
Five years ago, I had the segregation, division of the property and the exoneration done by an attorney. This time I tried to do it myself and learned that using an attorney is both necessary and less expensive than doing it yourself, if you consider trips to David, frustration and time as having value.
The lesson learned is that the bureaucracy here is overwhelming and inconsistent. Even if your language skills are excellent and you have a legal education, navigation of the paper piles may be hazardous to your health.