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Left with nothing but questions 5 December 2003 Edition
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Okay - the story is almost told and I've been truly humbled by the level of support I've received from regular Aardvark readers both here in NZ and from overseas. There have even been messages of support and sympathy from a number of people who normally just visit my jet-engine site.

Many, many people have urged me not to give up - but I have to say that, as you can probably imagine, the stress of these past few months has not only exhausted me, it's also taken quite a toll on my health.

I'm a peron who is driven, not by money, but by the reward of problem-solving. Take away the opportunity to get stuck in and solve complex and challenging technology problems and suddenly there seems little point in getting out of bed in the morning. This leaves me thinking that it's simply time to cut my losses and acknowledge that basically there is no point in trying to battle a system that makes no provision for those who aren't money-focused.

And, in another painful twist of irony - during the past two weeks (since the Scrapheap Challenge programme aired on UK and US TV screens) I've had a raft of emails from people wanting to know if I can build them an engine like the one they saw on TV. There's enough work there to keep several people busy full-time for the foreseeable future. More jobs and export dollars down the gurgler Jim!

Just as NZ's ability to produce amazing technology is showcased across the world on a high-rating TV series -- the government effectively kills our ability to benefit that publicity. Publicity worth millions of dollars. How clever is that?

The Aardvark PC-Based Digital
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Yes, at last, this feature has been updated again! (31 Mar 2003)

I'll briefly summarise the situation as I see it:

  • I was tardy in filing tax returns, this I openly acknowledge and confess.
  • I remedied my tardiness before the issue of bankruptcy was even raised.
  • I owed some tax and a huge amount of penalties and interest
  • I repaid well over three-quarters (more than $160K) of the amount owed by selling all of my readily realisable assets and living a very subsistence lifestyle.
  • I had already put myself and my family into a position that could reasonably be described as one of hardship in order to meet the IRD's insatiable demand for money
  • I offered a very sensible, and albeit with great effort and sacrifice, sustainable repayment plan for the remainder of the debt and had paid money towards this plan.
  • I informed the IRD of my lack of assets and my very good prospects for securing a deal worth hundreds of times the value of the outstanding debt
  • While I was out of the country securing that deal, the IRD bankrupted me - despite the fact that they knew such an act would involve writing off the entire remainder of the debt and despite the fact they knew I had already put myself into financial hardship to appease their demands for money.
  • Despite the fact I faced up to my obligations and put all my records in order as per their demands, they repeatedly ignored my requests, the requests of two District Court judges and the request of a High Court judge to put their own records in order with respect to my case.
  • Despite the fact that bankrupting me very much appears to be a breach of sections 176 and 177 of the Tax Act 2002, neither the Minister of Finance nor the Minister for Economic Development saw fit to intervene in the IRD's action.
  • Although I, despite my very best efforts to comply with the law and repay the amounts claimed by the IRD, have been penalised to the full extent of the law with no latitude given for my efforts, others who have gone out of their way to avoid their financial obligations are to get their penalties waived.
  • Even though I chose to forego a $36K handout from the taxpayer in order that such funds could be applied to more needy causes, I was hung, drawn and quartered yet a Maori Spiritual Healer and clairvoyant (who, it would appear, had failed to properly account for the grants he'd already received) got his much larger tax bill PAID IN FULL by government.

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So what can I do about this?

The unfortunate answer is: nothing.

Here are some questions I'd like answered though:

  1. Were the IRD in breach of sections 176 and 177 of the Tax Act when they bankrupted me in the full knowledge that such an act would not only cause extraordinary hardship but would also require the taxpayer to write off the monies owed with no chance of any asset sales to compensate.
  2. If the answer to 1 (above) is yes, why didn't the Revenue Minister or the Minister for Economic development step in to protect taxpayers' interests and ensure that the IRD complied with these newly introduced aspects of the Tax Act?
  3. Why did the IRD refuse to meet with the Ernst & Young tax accountant authorised to act on my behalf once the issue of sections 176 and 177 were raised by that accountant?
  4. What fiscal gain or other benefit to the taxpayer was achieved by my bankruptcy?
  5. Why does the NZ government (through Trade and Industry) allow/endorse the supply of technology with military applications to Iran when the USA has banned such technology transfers and considers Iran to be a terrorist sponsor?
  6. Is really NZ doing so very well that it can afford to throw away overseas investment in new hi-tech industries, new jobs and millions of dollars in new export earnings or has the IRD/Government defrauded and disadvantaged taxpayers through their actions?
Are these not reasonable questions that every taxpayer ought to be asking in respect to my predicament?

Many people have contacted me suggesting that they'll be writing or emailing their local MP, Anderton, Cullen and Clark to express their concerns over this matter and demand some answers. While I can't ask anyone to do this - I'm not about to stop anyone either.

If my situation, the scuttling of the X-Jet deal, and the way the government appears to have allowed the IRD to disregard tax law in their quest to bankrupt me means you won't be voting Labour at the next election then by all means mention that fact. Votes are the one currency that politicians do understand. And please, if you do decide to email the ministers, don't be abusive or unprofessional because such emails will simply be deleted without any effect.

Be aware however, a few hundred emails is unlikely make any difference at all to the ministers' opinions, attitudes or indifference -- although a few thousand might - and at the very least it will keep a few private secretaries very busy for a day or so.

Sadly, I have to advise that I have destroyed the 3rd-generation X-Jet prototype engine that represented many years of my life and so many hours of hard work. There's no way I'm having that sold for a song by an Official Assignee who is only interested in recovering sufficient funds to meet the IRD's debt. The plans and X-Jet IP however are securely locked inside my head and stored off-shore in encrypted form.

I'm left wondering though, whether there's some provision of the recently passed and somewhat draconian anti-terror act that can be mis-applied to authorise the use of torture so as to extract such information from uncooperative citizens.

So where do I go from here?

As a bankrupt, I'm only allowed to retain $500 worth of "tools of trade" -- which should allow me to keep a computer -- although it probably won't include my printer, my DSL router, and maybe not even a dial-up modem. What a convenient way to silence a critic who writes politically embarrassing columns like this one eh Jim?

But to be honest, I don't know. The IRD and government have managed to achieve that which countless dead-ends, failures, false starts, and frustrating road-blocks during my R&D activities have been unable to: they've truly broken my spirit.

Even the regular visits I've been making to secondary schools where I happily demonstrate my engines to awe-struck students and encourage them to take an interest in hi-technology will now come to an end. The small but growing pile of "thank you" letters I've received from those schools and grateful kids will likely grow no larger now.

I guess the regular stream of emails and visitors that my jet engine website receives from domains such as nasa.gov, boeing.com, a plethora of ivy-league US universities and other influential players in the global hi-tech economy will also gradually decay to nothing. Another highly-trafficked beacon (over a quarter-million visitors a year, 30GB a month of data downloaded) showcasing the Kiwi spirit and our capabilities as innovators will soon be just another dim bulb - even if I can afford to keep the existing pages up. Good work Jim (whose role might be better titled "Minister for Economic Atrophy")

I'm disappointed that, despite what they say, the NZ government clearly isn't really interested in moving NZ into the 21st century and, as a result, all Kiwis will suffer in the longer run. The economy may be buoyant now but we all know that such things are cyclic. The time we'll really notice the lack of an export-based knowledge economy in NZ will be when interest rates rise, our dollar keeps soaring, and our "commodity" products once again become difficult to sell on overseas markets. It's then that having unique hi-tech products would provide the invaluable ability to weather the storm of international economic downturns. Perhaps only then, albeit too late, the government of the day will say - "oops!"

Of course I have no doubt the government will once again simply explain NZ's poor performance at such times as being due to "factors beyond our control" -- sure Jim!

The realisation that honest hard work, patriotism, "doing the right thing", placing the interests of other people ahead of your own, and busting a gut to reform ones tardy tax filing counts for nothing within the halls of power leaves me feeling very sad indeed for this country. It is almost a crime that so many very fine people must live under such a selfish, self-serving bureaucracy.

Of course I could discard my own principles and ethics to simply adopt the selfish, mercenary attitudes that government clearly considers to be desirable within the ranks of its citizens - but I'm afraid that I simply can't bring myself to do that.

Right now I'm sure a doctor would tell me "you need to get away, take a holiday" - which is great advice to someone who can't even pay the rent let alone afford a visit to the surgery.

Perhaps I just have to face up to life on the dole, watching hour upon hour of mind-numbing television (and no, I don't have Sky TV - I canned that more than a year ago so as to free up cash for paying the IRD).

One thing's for sure -- if I have *any* money next year when the Scrapheap programme screens here (close to the next election they tell me), I'll buy an advertisement that asks "How is the government taking advantage of this guy's talents to help NZ?" Maybe an opposition party would like to use this angle in their election campaign -- if so, just drop me an email.

But right now, I'm just extremely disappointed and tired. Very, very tired.

I don't think so.

If any Aardvark readers want to share an opinion on today's column or add something, you're invited to chip in and have your say in The Aardvark Forums or, if you prefer, you can contact me directly.

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