In light of all the crazy things going on in the United States lately, I thought I would share some of the bizarre happenings on Roatan.
About a week ago, 60 DEI agents arrived on the island. They seem to be comparable to IRS agents in the U.S. They have been inspecting businesses, not only to insure that taxes have been paid, but to look for any other possible error or omission such as failure to have an email address on their customer receipts or using a logo on their receipts which has not been copyrighted with the DEI(?). The receipts are very strangely issued a range of effective dates. If a company is using a receipt with an expired effective date, they are fined and/or closed down, even if they have already applied for new dates but have not received them. This really makes no sense.
They began their inspection tours with one of the biggest businesses on the island, Sun Corporation, which owns Eldon's grocery stores, gas stations, Bojangles chicken stores and Pizza Inn stores. They promptly shut down Bojangles because they did not have an L (for lempiras - the currency here) before the amount owed on the receipt. They also did not have an email address on their receipt. Their next move was to close the big Eldon's grocery store just up the hill. They went into the store, wearing bullet proof vests and carrying automatic rifles, and ordered everyone out! Eldon was able to quickly show his compliance with everything else and that all taxes had been paid and reopen his stores.
Other businesses were not so fortunate and 40 businesses were quickly closed. Another big business, a lumber/hardware business was shut down for 5 days for not having the L on their receipts and even though they told the agents that they could have that corrected on their servers within an hour, they were still forced to close. They were told that they were being shut down to "shame" them! Even though they were in full compliance with everything else. They stuck big signs to the door and windows saying the store was closed. They are not even fining them, just "shaming" them.
A small souvenir shop was closed and fined heavily. Do you think a small souvenir shop has an email address? Some of the smaller businesses have preemptively closed shop, hoping the DEI would go away. That so angered the agents that they sought a court order to force the shops to reopen just so they could close them again.
Some businesses have printed out the receipt requirements from the DEI's own website and shown it to the agents to prove that they are in compliance with what they know to be required. It seems that these agents are enjoying their power and have been throwing their weight around. They were initially scheduled to be on island for 2 weeks; that has now been extended with 40 agents remaining through Christmas.
What this means for the island is that many, many workers are now out of work. No work, no pay. Many of these workers only earn $10 - $15. per day and live hand to mouth. And Christmas is coming. Missed income will make it just that much more difficult to provide any kind of Christmas for their families.
This is also high season on the island. Does it makes any sense to close businesses thus limiting services to tourists as well as decreasing the amount of taxes that could be collected? Just read that of the 3000 businesses on Roatan only 830 are registered as being in compliance with the new invoicing system the DEI requires.
Business owners are so upset with the high-handed tactics being used that they have appealed to the Chamber of Commerce who has scheduled a meeting of shop owners, and DEI agents for today. Hopefully, something will be worked out.
In the meantime, is it safe here? Yes. Can you still buy what you need? Yes, grocery stores and gas stations are open.