• 13 December 2018


    Posteado en : Interview

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    Expatriados FIIAPP: Pepa Rubio

    "Colombians are very open, which facilitates closeness"

    In this interview, Pepa Rubio tells us about her life in Bogotá since she began her career as an expert in management and gender on the AMERIPOL support project, focused on strengthening the international cooperation capacities of the police forces that are part of AMERIPOL.


    How long have you been in Colombia? How have you adapted to this country? 


    I have been in Bogotá for about 5 months, where I came to manage the EL PAcCTO: support to AMERIPOL project whose objective is to improve the cooperation of the police and judicial authorities of the partner countries in their fight against transnational crime.  The project is exciting and I am also having the opportunity to go deeper into issues such as Gender Violence and Human Trafficking, which I consider crucial and which have a great impact in the region.


    As for my transfer, I was accompanied by my husband and my son and at the beginning I was rather worried about what the adaptation would be like for the whole family. Luckily we have adapted quickly and well. Fortunately we have not suffered from altitude sickness. Bogotá is a great city and we like life here, although we must take certain precautions in terms of security.


    What has been the most difficult aspect to adapt to, and the easiest? 


    The traffic is the biggest problem I have found living here, depending on the time of day the “trancón” (traffic jam) is inevitable and it is a bit exasperating. The easiest thing is the contact with people, luckily I met lovely people right from the beginning. Colombians are very open and facilitate closeness, which I love!


    Is this your first experience outside of Spain? 


    It is not my first experience abroad. Before Bogotá I spent 3 years in China and another 3 years in Vietnam working with Spanish cooperation on issues related to gender and human trafficking. I also lived a year in Germany where I finished my university studies. It is my first long-term stay in Latin America, and because of the cultural ties that unite us with the region, I think adapting has been comparatively easier.


    What is your work like and your daily routine? Is it very different from the routine you had in Spain? 


    I work at the AMERIPOL head office in Bogota, so my colleagues in the office are members of the Security Forces of several countries in the region, at the beginning it was unusual working surrounded by uniforms and I still have trouble remembering the ranks of all. In any case, my colleagues at AMERIPOL have received me with open arms, despite being a civilian, for which I am very grateful.


    As for the management work, it is not very different from what I was doing in head office, but I do notice that, being concentrated on a single project, I find it easier to keep up with the management and contents than when I was responsible for multiple projects. Due to the nature of the project, our activities depend to a certain extent on the support of high political and police authorities, and the reality is that with 8 partner countries we continuously depend on electoral calendars, rotation of governments, ministers or police directors and we have to prevent these changes from affecting our programming (or minimise the effects), although this is difficult.


    What is your relationship like with head office in Madrid? And with your colleagues in Bogota? 


    My relationship with head office is very good as well as constant and necessary. I have a very close contact with Irene Cara at the technical level and with Álvaro Rodríguez for economic management, both of them help me and improve the results of my work. Irene was already responsible for the backstopping of the previous phase of the project, so having her background knowledge is a good thing.


    At the leadership level, both Ana Hernández and Mariano Guillen are very involved in the activities and their follow-up, this commitment is very important for the success of the activities and their visibility vis-à-vis Spanish institutions.


    I also have contact with the legal department, the ICT department and with the communication partners, whom I all bother from time to time.


    As for my colleagues from Bogotá, the project office is made up of Marcos Alvar, the project manager, Nadia Kahuazango, the project assistant, and myself. Marcos is in charge of the technical part and the relations with the partner countries, and each day is an opportunity to learn from his extensive experience in police cooperation. His coordination is also very horizontal, which makes it possible to add visions and inputs and achieve results that are shared by the whole team. Nadia takes care of the logistics part very diligently and is a great companion.


    How would you assess your experience of working as a FIIAPP expatriate in Bogota? 


    I consider myself privileged to have the opportunity to contribute my experience and energy to such an interesting and relevant project. I firmly believe in the importance of consolidating AMERIPOL as a hemispheric cooperation mechanism and the project is contributing enormously to this process.


    At the level of the tasks to be carried out, I think that the fact of having worked in the FIIAPP headquarters before gives me a very complete view of the work, having been on both sides of the curtain is very useful as it helps me to empathise with and understand the positions of both the headquarters and those on the ground.


    In addition, FIIAPP as an organisation is a ten out of ten, another advantage of working in an organisation at this level is that there are other projects with similar themes and activities and colleagues are always willing to share experiences and contribute to the coordination of content. It is a luxury to have so many good professionals a click or a call away.


    Do you have any experiences or anecdotes about your arrival in the country? 


    In the first meeting I had in Colombia, someone asked what we wanted to drink and everyone asked for a “tinto”, which in Spain is a red wine, and I remember thinking: Christ, it’s not even nine o’clock in the morning! I asked for a glass of water. Then they brought coffees for everyone and I realised that a “tinto” in Colombia is a coffee, and to think that I almost asked for a beer to help me “fit in”, I would have died of embarrassment!


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  • 18 January 2018


    Posteado en : Interview

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    “Our rights cost money”

    Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, talks to us about the importance of tax education in ensuring that the public see taxes as a contribution toward common goals

     A year since the signing of the Colombian Peace Agreements, we went to Bogotá to interview the city’s former mayor, Professor Antanas Mockus, a big defender of the national reconciliation process and a leader in changing collective behaviour through education, including behaviour related to paying taxes.


    During his terms as mayor, Bogotá underwent a transformation in its tax culture, as its citizens began to notice a relationship between taxes and an improvement in public services. This led to feelings of a shared responsibility for funding development that were based on conviction rather than on the fear of being sanctioned. ‘Todos pagan’ [‘We all pay’] and ‘Recurso público, recurso sagrado’ [‘Public resources, sacred resources’] were some of the slogans coined by Mockus, who also promoted a campaign called ‘110 por ciento con Bogotá’ [‘110 per cent with Bogotá’], which appealed for a voluntary 10% tax increase, with a chance to choose the project the money would go to.


    What role do taxes pay in post-conflict Colombia?

    The peace process that Colombia is going through has many aspects. One of these is avoiding the use of the force of arms to implement changes. The State must reach the country in a much more substantive way, but the public must also play their part. The public must learn to understand how the State works, how the State reallocates resources for purposes that are usually much more admirable than private spending; it would not make sense to collect taxes to do things that are not as good.


    The social rule of law established by the Colombian Constitution of 1991 establishes that one of a citizen’s duties is to pay taxes. However, this duty is associated with the State’s duty to protect citizens’ rights. But rights cost money. There is a book by an American academic named Stephen Holmes entitled ‘The Cost of Rights’, which asserts that a right cannot be guaranteed if no resources have been invested in defending that right.


    Colombia is in debt in terms of socio-economic inequality and taxes must be understood to be part of the tools that we have for levelling the playing field and creating more equality. We hope that FARC and the ELN, if they join the peace process, will participate in this learning process and understand the enormous importance of redistribution mechanisms. It is essential to go through the tax system, which is the only method of wealth redistribution open to a democratic government. Redistribution must be understood not only as a way of sharing out resources but also as an essential part of human relations. Public resources are sacred resources.


    How can a country’s tax culture be changed?

    I have an anecdote about a Colombian who is working and studying in the United States. At breakfast, he tells an American friend: “Last night I found a way to avoid paying taxes”, and he then explains his scam. And the American says: “I’ll give you 24 hours to put that right or I’ll report you”.


    The mafia culture is associated with a code of silence. In the mafia culture, the social norm is more than simply not complying with legal regulations, breaking the law becomes part of your obligations.


    For a while, I thought that corruption was something it would be very easy to resist, just by saying no, but then I met mayors who had been threatened with violence for not cooperating with criminals. As a result, the combination of the code of silence with the use of violence against those who do not allow themselves to be corrupted generates an illness that is slightly more difficult to deal with, but it is one that needs to be treated all the more urgently.


    When you buy a tin of paint at a hardware store in Colombia, you are still often asked whether you want it with or without VAT, with or without a receipt, which is an implicit or explicit offer to not pay sales tax.


    This has a decisive influence on the public’s attitude toward taxes…

    The field of behavioural economics has found that as humans, we are very risk-averse. If you lose 10 euros and find 10 euros, you won’t be happy; from a psychological point of view, you’ve suffered a loss. You would need to find 27 euros. Losses are seen through a magnifying glass. If you see taxes as a loss, you suffer disproportionately; but it is different if you see them as a contribution, a bit like putting money into a kitty, a mechanism for pooling resources to achieve common goals.


    Bogotá has managed to improve people’s attitude toward paying taxes. We have also worked with the Ministry for Health to show that there are other redistribution schemes, as well as taxes. In the Colombian healthcare model, the more economically powerful classes contribute more than their proportion to healthcare and this is a clear redistribution model, because people from very different financial situations receive similar medical attention. Having the same guarantees is another expression of the social rule of law.


    My experience is that if people understand what taxes are for, if they understand how the rates for the different groups of citizens work, they can understand how important taxes are. The proper management of these is, in part, the secret to the country’s development.


    What is your opinion of the work sponsored by the EUROsociAL+ programme in universities with Tax and Accounting Assistance Hubs (NAFs)?

    What is being promoted with the university tax consultancies is a very important step. The role of the accountant as someone who advises you how to evade or avoid taxes is giving way to a culture of a tax adviser who explains the purpose of the regulations to the public, taking on the role of educator.



    Borja Díaz Rivillas, Senior Expert in Democratic Governance for the EUROsociAL+ Programme.