Gambling with receipts

Getting people to pay their taxes or rent is not always straightforward.  Could we use the novel solutions developed in some countries to collect tax and rent to help with environmental management?

The Chinese government has devised interesting answers to address the challenge of collecting Value Added Tax on goods and services.  To encourage customers to request official receipts as proof of payment, local tax authorities have created a type of receipt that is itself worth some money.


Some receipts can be used as scratch cards to win small amounts of cash (see the little panel on top right on the receipt above), but they can also serve as lottery tickets for winning larger amounts or be used in other ways.   When I visited a restaurant in Beijing recently, the receipt for our meal was a voucher for a reduction of the price of the next meal at the same restaurant.  The value of the voucher for the next visit depends on how much money you spent on the previous meal.

A lottery system has been in operation on the island of Taiwan for several decades, called the Taiwan Receipt Lottery.  To prevent forgery, businesses use special machines for printing receipts and each receipt has a unique number.   The lottery drawing in Taiwan falls on the 25th of January, March, May, July, September and November.  Six sets of eight-digit numbers are drawn and announced as a major event on TV and the amount of money you can win is based on how many of the numbers on your receipt sequentially match the regular prize numbers.  Some major convenience store chains will redeem receipts for the smallest prize by allowing customers to buy that amount of products with a winning receipt; larger prizes must be redeemed at a tax ministry office.

A recent article about incentives to secure rent payments in the UK suggests that the practice of offering rewards to people who pay their rents on a regular basis is being reconsidered in some places in Europe, possibly linked to a sanction system for those who are defaulting on their payments.

These novel ways of encouraging people to comply with the rules is something we may also be able to use in the environmental arena.  In fact, the concept of charging a deposit on a glass bottle or paying for old newspaper is one way of promoting waste separation and recycling.  I remember getting extra pocket money by returning bottles and paper, although I no longer get paid for the bottles that I leave at the bottle-bank at my Swiss rubbish collection point, and my old paper disappears into a container without any financial benefit for me.

In places where waste separation and rubbish collection are not so well established, a financial incentive could help to avoid littering and illegal waste dumping, and maybe with collection of environmental taxes and fines.  A “carrot” may be even more effective if mixed with the “stick” approach used in the following poster from Australia.

Illegal-dumping-poster-Australia_copyright-by-KESAB environmental solutions

copyright: KESAB environmental solutions

Stop the smog

Reading about the smog in Singapore, and listening to the recent debates makes me wonder. The world seemed to treat this disaster as an unexpected happening, and urgent political discussions are taking place in the region to try and address the problem.

But, rather than trying to deal with the symptoms of smog and air pollution, the international community should address the cause of the problem. The burning of forests to clear land for plantations is something that has been going on for years in many of the Southeast Asia nations, and it is an issue that has occupied local and international environmental NGOs for a long time.

Illegal forest clearing is one of the main causes for greenhouse gas emissions, causes major hardship for local communities, destroys the ecosystem for charismatic species, often lowers the groundwater table and eventually makes the land useless for agriculture. It is a one-way ticket to disaster, and the governments of the affected countries know this, which is why forest clearing is illegal. Yet – it still happens at a staggering scale.

Riau Province, Indonesia  Photograph: Aswaddy Hamid/Reuters

Riau Province, Indonesia
Photograph: Aswaddy Hamid/Reuters

In recent reports, local subsistence farmers are being accused as the main culprits, but a 2012 study by Greenpeace clearly points the finger at large business enterprises. These companies manage to get away with the illegal logging as a result of a mixture of local political support, corrupt management practices and financial pay-offs, made possible through a lack of enforcement capacity by the authorities.

The international community should help, and this could be through pressure from multinationals working at the end of the supply chain on the suppliers, through technical advice and support from international aid organisations and NGOs, by strengthening local communities and by physically helping the authorities to extinguish the fires.

Forest clearing is a problem that has simple solutions – deal with the greed and corruption of bad companies, support those that are following the law and help local communities to take charge of their territory. Naming and shaming may be a very effective way to start.