Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Tale of the Computer Donation: Part V

Previous Installments

Family Circus Map

On Thursday, the driver for the Methodist Board of Education agreed to pick up the computers starting at noon (just after I had finished my classes for the day). When I hopped in the truck, he asked me if I had all my paper work. “Of course,” I said. I had in my possession the paid invoice for shipping and a letter (in Samoan) from the Minister of Revenue waiving the customs and taxes. We were good to go.

Boy was I wrong.

1:00 pm: Cale, Jordan and I arrived at PFL. I went in and handed the woman the invoice and the letter. She made a very sad face at me and started to translate the letter for me.

“You see, this is a letter from the Minister of Revenue to the Deputy Prime Minister telling him to ask the Minister of Finance for the waiver.”

“So this is not the letter I need? Cause I was told this was the letter.”

“Maybe the people at Customs will take it,” she said in a voice that told me she didn’t believe that.

It was determined that we should talk to the CEO of the Customs Department to see how much the taxes were going to be. Jordan and I trooped over to the Customs office while Cale went to the Peace Corps office to see if there was any help to be had on that end.

In the Customs office we learned again that our letter was not going to cut it and that they needed the paperwork declaring the value of the cargo to determine taxes. I showed them all the paperwork I had. There was no value assessed to the cargo. “Exactly,” Jordan said. “These computers were free, they have no value.”

Apparently, their freeness doesn’t matter. We were sent back to PFL with a customs agent who would guesstimate the value of our cargo. Jordan guessed $20,000 as we walked back across the road. Once back at PFL, they had to use the forklift to bring all 10 palettes out of the warehouse and onto the floor for the customs agent to look at.

The story of Thursday doesn’t sound so bad yet. But after our experiences on Tuesday, I was slowly coming unhinged and Jordan played nice with the customs agent while I fretted myself angrier and angrier. How much are the taxes going to be? What if they are not waived? How will we ever afford to pay them? Why can’t anything be easy?

Cale came back and said the advice from the office was we emphasize the value of the computers, $0, and that we go back to see the DPM, where the letter writing had originated from.

The agent inspected and then we all trooped back to the Customs office where he gave us an estimate of just under $20,000. Score one for Jordan. Twenty-three percent tax on these now $20,000 computers? $4,600. Now where the heck were we supposed to come up with $4,600 for free computers? Why did this have to be so complicated? Didn’t Samoa want people to easily donate things to their schools? My frustration was building.

Next we were sent to the Custom’s Agent where it was believed that maybe he would accept our letter and process the paperwork. We trooped across the street. The agent also was not a fan of our letter, but for different reasons. He seemed to dislike it because he thought it was not signed by the Minister of Revenue. This apparently confused us all, but we didn’t realize it until we were outside the office and could discuss it with each other? Isn’t this already signed by the Minister of Revenue we asked each other? Yes, we all concurred. Yet the customs agent seemed to feel that we needed this letter to be signed or authorized. We decided that if we need a second signature then we would get a second signature.

2 pm: We hopped in a cab and headed to the Government Building. In the elevator. Up to the 5th floor. In to the Minister’s office. Explain our situation.

The Minister’s secretary was also confused.

“You need what?”

“His signature or authorization.”

“But he already signed this letter.”

“We know.”

The Minster was having lunch in his office, so we waited. While we waited I had half a glass of water, the only water I was going to drink that day until we finished hours later. If only I had known that at the time; I would have drunk more.

The secretary took our letter to the Minister and returned to tell us that the Minister of Revenue says we have to see the Minister of Finance (which was what the woman at PFL had originally translated for me, but everyone else since then had given us conflicting information).

So we all trooped out of the Minister’s office. Down the elevator. Out of the building. Across the car park. Into the Samoa Central Bank building. Up the elevator. Out on the 6th floor. Into the Minister of Finance’s office. Explain our situation…again.

This Minister’s secretary looked at me like I was a crazy person.

“The Minister of Finance doesn’t handle this sort of thing.”

“I am just doing what I was told!”

“Ok, I will check with the Minister.”

Yeah, the Minister of Finance doesn’t deal with this sort of thing. However, what the secretary did next was quite possibly the most helpful thing anyone had done so far this day (since the woman at PFL had translated for me). She picked up the phone and made a phone call. She asked some questions, was transferred and asked some more questions. When she got of the phone, she told me I needed to go see Lita on Level 3. Lita could help us.

Out of the Minister of Finance’s office. Down the elevator. Out on the 3rd floor. Wander a little among the cubicles. Find Lita. Explain our situation…again.

And Lita knew what we were talking about!

She processed these sorts of requests. This was her job! This is where we needed to be all along! This is where I should have gone a month ago if I had know that the letter we had wasn’t the final document required to waive the customs and taxes. Or at least yesterday after paying for the shipping.

Don’t get too excited because we didn’t have the paperwork we needed to process the request. We needed something from the Customs Department, the name of which I still do not know, that comes on a yellow piece of paper. We were to go back to the Customs Department and get the yellow slip. They would know what we were talking about. We all looked at our watches. Lita’s office closes at 5 pm.

The Tale of the Computer Donation

3:30 pm: Out of Lita’s office. Down the elevator. In a taxi. Back the Customs Department. Up to the Customs Department window.

The man behind the window tells us he cannot give us the yellow slip. We don’t have the necessary paperwork.

“But the woman at the Department of Finance said we can get it from you!”

“You must see the Customs Agent.”

“But the Customs Agent said he couldn’t do anything until we had the customs and tax waiver! And we cannot get the waiver until we give the yellow slip to Lita.”

As luck would have it, the customs agent we talked with was standing one window over at the Customs Department and Jordan hijacked him, explaining the situation. I think partially out of hope to make the irritating palagi go away, he wrote a note on a sticky note to take to his office.

“Give them this. They will take care of everything.”

Across thee street and back to the Customs Agent office. Give note to man behind desk.

The man behind the desk miraculously agrees to process our shipment. He also tells us that after we pay him the $92 agent fee and take this form to the Customs Department we will pay them $10 and they will release our cargo. All finished.

What? What about the yellow slip to take to Lita? Nope? Just $10 to the Customs Department and finished. Ok.

4 pm: Back to the Customs Department. Present paperwork. Wait.

Jordan is practically giddy at this point. He has a $10 bill out that he keeps folding and refolding and miming presenting to the cashier so we can pick up at least one load of our computers today before everything closes.

“You know, my pule still doesn’t believe these computers are real,” said Jordan. “Even though they paid for the shipping.”

Paperwork processed. Paperwork to cashier’s window. Jordan excitedly hands paperwork and $10 to cashier. She looks at him like he is a crazy person. All our attention is drawn to the number at the bottom of the paper work. Just over $3,000. What happened to only $10?

The guys behind the glass at the Customs Department pulls out the letter we have from the Minister of Revenue and starts explaining the part of the letter that says the Minister of Revenue recommends the Customs Department give a 5% discount on the customs and taxes. Midway through this he stops and looks at us.

“Don’t you have any of our people who can help you?” he says, gesturing to himself, “Anyone who can speak Samoan.”

We all recognize the comedy of this. These three palagi running from one government office to another not understanding what is happening around them and constantly being referred back to a letter in another language that we have had translated to us in bits and pieces, each person translating the portion that refers to what they are currently trying to make us understand.

We are all still a little confused. The guy in the Customs Agent office said we would pay $10 and be finished, but that does not appear to be the case. However, we have the yellow slip now. We were all preparing to head back to Lita in the Department of Finance, when Cale suggested we run back to the Customs Agent to see what went wrong with the $10.

The Customs Agent looks at the yellow form. He points out that in one field on the form he sent over he had typed COM, which means the CEO of Customs has the power to waive the fees. However, in our new yellow form that field has been changed to 14B. We go back to Customs to ask why it was changed. We are told that the head of Customs based the change on the letter from the Minister of Revenue, which recommended the 5% discount, but said we had to see the Minister of Finance about waiving the fees entirely.

4:15 pm: We are in a taxi heading back to the Department of Finance to give Lita our yellow form. We run into her in the stairwell on the way to her office. She says that we now have what we need and we can leave it with the woman with the desk next to her desk; it takes two days to process.

Cale and Jordan are still determined to pick up at least one, just one computer today. If only to prove it can be done.

We take our form to Ruth who responds to our crazed panic with calm and extreme levels of help. She goes to work right away completing the paperwork that must be done on her end. Then she walks us down to the accounts department and has our paperwork officially stamped for processing. We now hold a piece of paper in our hand that should allow the Customs Department to release our cargo while the payment of the customs and taxes by the government is processed.

4:40 pm: In a taxi. To the Customs Department. Catch employees as they are leaving the building. Hand over paper. Wait for processing. Catch cashier who has already closed up shop and pay additional processing fees. We are told we will have to return tomorrow to pick up the receipt since everything is shut down. As we are completing this transaction we hear the large shuttered garage door at PFL being pulled down. PFL is closing up shop. I console Cale and Jordan who were still determined to pick up that one computer.

4:57 pm: When the paper work is complete, we have one white and one blue piece of paper that should tell PFL that all is well and they can release the cargo. We race across the street to PFL and discover the offices are still open. So finally, after starting the process at noon we hand over our cargo release papers to PFL at 5 pm. The woman at PFL exclaims, “We have been waiting for you all day. But the boys have all gone home now.” We tell her not to worry, our driver had gone home hours ago. We had told him we would call him when we were ready. Unfortunately, we weren’t ready that day. We state our intentions to return the next morning.

5:30 pm: Cale and I went to Italiano’s to eat for the first time that day and drink water for the first time since the sip in the Minister of Revenue’s office hours earlier. Jordan went home to enjoy his poker night.

— Sara

Will Cale and Sara pick up the computers tomorrow? Will PFL be hit by an meteorite? Will a tsunami flood their schools? Tune in tomorrow for the next installment in the Tale of the Computer Donation.


Lindsay said...

I hope it's posted before I wake up!

Maamusa said...

Ha ha this is the craziest comedy story ever, since the Office came out. Malo Sara, you and the team are gonna be hard core by end of this.

Patty Leal said...

I can't believe you had the energy to write about your (mis)adventures. I'd be in jail or a straight jacket by now! Once again you amaze me.

annette said...

holy cow, i am worn out after reading this.....can't wait until tomorrows post!!!

Anonymous said...

So you tried to say the computers had no value....I understand that...the paperwork....had same experience at LA airport...whew those darn varmits eh!!!