Into the potatoes, out of the potatoes. The new rules against tax evasion at the cash register are to come into force in three weeks, when the federal government is already backtracking. Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmeier wants to collect the receipts with which the new insurance regulation should prevent the unfortunately surprisingly widespread sales trickery.
Shitstorm meets weak decision
A small shitstorm from a bakery in the Münsterland region was enough to falter an amendment to the law that was not only passed in 2016, but had been in progress for a good decade. The Federal Ministry of Finance of Olaf Scholz has denied to heise online that there are concrete plans to abolish the receipt of receipts – this would require a new law change anyway.
No politician wants to stand in front of the cameras to explain the meaning of the regulation to the Germans. Not even that new guideline values will apply to thermal paper, which is rightly criticized from 2020. Who wants to present themselves as a bureaucracy bogeyman and enemy of small bakeries? Nobody – and that is why it is urgently needed. Instead, politicians pilgrimage in rows to a master baker as if he had reinvented tax legislation.
An environment for Cum-Ex
Despite all understandable protests, the obligation to pay is sensible, even necessary. Wanting to cash it in at the last minute simply meant that the success of the law was not seen as important. Which is probably true. Anyone who reads through the minutes of the Bundestag quickly realizes that the new legal regulation was not a dream project. Legislators and the government had to be hunted.
The problem was simply undeniable. In the past few years, several federal states had set up their own tax investigator groups, which specialized entirely in cash register fraud, despite the staff shortage in the tax offices. When they brought millions of entries into the state treasury every year and found indications of much greater unsuspected failures, the realization remained: German businesses do not believe in tax compliance.
Looking away as a political strategy
When the state looks away, market participants learn the lesson. After all, you don’t want to fall behind the competitor, who is probably cheating even more. It also became clear that state governments are sometimes more interested in stopping tax investigators than tax evasion. This is the climate in which scandals such as the billion-dollar fraud that has been tolerated for years could flourish with cum-ex deals.
Altmaier’s turn also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of technology. Secure storage elements can do a lot, but they have no magical powers. A minimum of criminal energy is enough to trick a receipt-free solution. After all, a cash register can only register what is actually entered. If a cashier taps into nothing, or if a few flows of information have been bent, the customer will not notice it, then the cash register will not notice it, then the tax office will not notice it. As with elections, a paper trail is not that easy to crack.
A cash register is not an X-Box
When the new cash registers have been in the shops for a few years, the inventors will also be able to work again. The most sophisticated and complex encryption codes in the world have been extracted to install unlicensed software on game consoles or to watch DVDs on Linux. How long is there a solution in an environment in which two men without significant IT expertise with a little entrepreneurial spirit could probably have caused a billion euros in damage? In an environment where cash register manufacturers have an active interest in opening small back doors to their customers?
It is embarrassing that the Federal Government does not support its own digital project at all. Why set up a blockchain strategy when the only really practical application of this hash technology should not be pursued so far? Honest cash register manufacturers could use some of the enthusiasm that was previously reserved only for flight taxis and digital investment ruins.
Even though many complaints consist of crocodile tears and thunder, the critics have valid reasons. It is embarrassing that the law comes into force, but the necessary hardware is not yet widely available in stores. If the law and specifications had not been adopted at the last minute, the traders would have been able to prepare themselves much better for this and integrate the updates into the normal maintenance cycles. So, on the other hand, they have to spend hundreds or thousands on something that, in their experience, will be of no use.
The trade is not entirely innocent, of course. Branch offices naturally use the cash registers to organize their replenishment or to monitor their own employees. If you walk through branch stores with your eyes wide open, you will sometimes discover small cameras that point to the cash register. Not to avoid robberies – but so that your own employees don’t go into the coffers unnoticed. Of course, the state also wants to use this infrastructure to check whether someone is accessing the state coffers.
The receipt as an opportunity
While retailers are already fantasizing about the e-euro – what if we could finally get an e-receipt? Not just from Payback and Rewe, whose e-vouchers make it unnecessary to print the receipt. How about a solution from our government itself? A small app, for example, that collects receipts by camera, NFC or email and makes them available to us. Neatly formatted, in an open format, with performant and flexible interfaces. We could not only save billions of coupons, but also import our expenses directly into ELSTER, organize our purchases or automate travel expense accounting. One step forward instead of dodging backwards.