I generally don't write about the "big" stories that have already made their rounds in the press. By the time I'd get to it, the story would be old news. For today's article, I'd like to share a "scandal" from Belgium that didn't seem to make much of a splash in the media. Heck, I bet a lot of Belgian readers even missed it.

The Belgian press reported (9/12, 9/20; both in French) that the government overestimated the 2007 budget by €883 Million. Now I understand that €883M is chump change for most of us, but keep in mind that for a small country like Belgium, it's a noticeable difference. This overestimate stemmed from the Fiscal Institution's 2007 tax assessment which, according to the General Administrator, was "all the IT's fault."

The Fiscal Institution uses document scanners and optical character recognition to automatically process fiscal declarations (tax returns) sent in by tax payers. When the system encountered a document it could not read, it did the most logical thing possible: it recorded the tax payer's income as €99,999,999.99.

This sudden increase of multi-millionaires went completely unnoticed by the IT department, glossed right over the tax assessment office, and found its way right into the government's budget. I suppose the good news in all this is that the Belgian Millionaires Club won't be flooded with a deluge of applications; I've heard they still do everything on paper.

And to Belgian taxpayers: I've heard that the IT department just received a much larger budget for quality assur-- err, well, actually that was before the overestimate was reported. Well, I'm sure the rest of your government's Fiscal Institution computer systems will work just fine.


UPDATE: I didn't actually read the articles; ironically, the only thing I can say in French is je parle français. But, a reader commented that the system did have filters to prevent these kind of errors, but the filters were manually bypassed by the users to speed up processing. Whoops!

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