It is a day or three short of the anniversary of registering my Honda.
That means it is a year since I last saw my family. But I digress already…
Time to renew the registration. It expires on Thursday. I knew that before I could renew, I would need the Fiji equivalent of a warrant of fitness, so I asked around where I might go to get one, rather than go to the LTA testing station, where I had so much heartache last year. I have heard horror stories of the petty little things they find that prevent a warrant. I was advised to go to an accredited garage, and someone suggested I try the BP Garage up the road from home. It seemed unlikely to me but I asked, and was directed to a chap at the back who runs a car wash and repair business. He told me to be there this morning at 8AM with $70. There I was. On the dot. He then bundled me into his car and we drove off, me asking where the hell we were going and why are we leaving the bike behind? He dismissed my questions with a wave or three and drove me to what turned out to be an LTA accredited testing station in Muir lane Vatuwaqa.
There I was served a shell of yaqona, (my breakfast!) and offered more, which I politely refused on the grounds of riding a bike. A long discussion in Hindi between my benefactor and the proprietor followed, after which my friend took me back to Laucala Bay in his car. On the way he gave me strict instructions, to return with the bike to where they had taken me, pay them $28 – no more – he had made special arrangements and got me an appointment. I was to then bring back to him the papers they would give me. Along with $70. His English as he explained this was good, and his hearing seemed ok until I started asking questions. Then suddenly he did not understand and could not hear. He would not
answer my questions.
Why didn’t he tell me straight away that he did
not do fitness checks?
Why didn’t he just tell me where to go?
he take me in the car rather than get me to follow him?
What was he up to?
He persistently waved aside my questions, but I kept asking, and insisted on knowing what the $70 was for. Finally he understood, or perhaps realised I was very suspicious. "Wheel tax. Very expensive in Fiji".
I had of course figured out what he was up to. He was trying to make some money from me by being a "facilitator". Already he had indebted me by taking me to where I needed to go, but where simply providing an address would have seen me on my way. His next step on my return with the fitness certificate would be to leave me at his establishment while he drove off alone to LTA to complete the paperwork ‘on my behalf’. The receipt would vanish, and I would never know how much the registration was. I knew it could not be anywhere near $70. It was much less than that last year, even though it was a new registration and I had paid for plates. He would point out, as he was already doing, that he was going to a lot of trouble and inconvenience for me, even though i had not asked him to, and he had been deceptive, but he would want to take his cut from the $70. I knew I was right in my assessment. It was not going to happen.
I returned with the Honda to the testing station. Maybe he did have some influence there, I don’t know, but they certainly did not do much of an examination of the bike. A group stood around looking at it for a while, one chap checked the VIN and asked me to demonstrate the indicators, then disappeared into an office. The others wandered off. I wondered how long this might take. I wondered when they were going to check the brakes and give the bike a proper going over. Not that I was worried about its road worthiness, because I keep it well maintained and adjusted, and the brakes are in excellent condition, because I do not overuse them, driving at reasonable speeds and using the gears rather than brakes as much as possible. I was more concerned about the front tyre which though still reasonably well treaded and safe enough, could have been, shall we say, a topic of discussion. I would have already replaced it by now were I able to find one. And the shocks are probably not quite what they were before they encountered the roads here, constructed and maintained by the Pothole Authority. But I ride with that awareness.
The clerk came out with a certificate of fitness, and a receipt, and I was done. As easy as that. I now had only to take this inspection certificate to the LTA office, pay the wheel tax, and I would be registered for another year.
I decided I would bypass the middleman. If he had not tried so hard to con me, I would have offered a few dollars as compensation for his "trouble", but as it stood, I saw no reason to see him again.
Not quite yet. I was reminded at this stage of another possible setback. The clerk who handed me my receipt asked , "Got your TIN?" and I remembered the recent law that all such transactions now must be accompanied by evidence of tax registration, by producing a document with one’s TIN number. No TIN, no registration. Fijians are sticklers for the correct documentation.
An email had come around SOPAC a week or so ago, telling us that even the tax exempt ex-pats now had to have a Tax Identification Number. Now I remembered that I should have attended to that promptly. So home I went to collect my passport and work permit, and off toFIRCA I went to get a TIN. My previous experience at FIRCA was a pleasant one, with swift and friendly, efficient service, so I was not anticipating a problem. There wasn’t, really, once I had waited in queues with all the others who also suddenly had to acquire TINs because of this latest decree. If one has a bank account, or carries out any transactions with any government department, one must have a TIN. As there are only three FIRCA offices in the whole of Fiji, some people must be travelling miles and days to get their pieces of paper. Why Fiji does not use postal and computer registrations, I shall never know. Everything has to be done in person, with lots of pieces of paper with official stamps on them.
Already I was carrying seven documents; third party insurance, inspection certificate, inspection form and receipt, plus my passport with work permit, and the application form needed to acquire yet an eighth – the TIN letter – in order to get a further three more (vehicle registration notice, payment receipt and registration sticker), one of which I would then stick on my bike, and the others I would carry under the saddle to produce on request by a police or LTA officer.
Incidentally, Fiji has got at least one thing right that NZ has not; compulsorythird party insurance. But it would be really good if they could get all this bureaucracy down to a couple of forms and a sticker. It is so much simpler in NZ.
The poor FIRCA staff were run off their feet. I admired their patience in dealing with the sticky and prickly members of the public. Not like the LTA staff I encountered last year. Well done FIRCA. I told the woman who served me I thought she was doing a great job. That might have been tactically a good thing as it turned out, because I had not been aware I was supposed to take a bank statement along (another document!), as verification of my account number. I did not have one. I produced a deposit slip, stamped by the bank, acknowledging deposit of a modest sum I had saved from my per diem while in Tonga. This was not really acceptable, and she started to tell me so, but my winning smile, boyish charm, and the impatient throng behind me must have won her heart, for she consulted someone behind the scenes, and then cheerfully accepted my application. I sat and waited about 20 minutes or so longer, making origami items and drawing pictures for the children of other people waiting, until another clerk brought me my TIN document.
Off to the LTA sub office at the shopping centre in Laucala Bay and in minutes I had a new registration sticker for the bike, served with a smile. Total cost, $8 registration fee, plus $3.60 wheel tax. That is only $1.80 per wheel. Even including the inspection fee of $28 I was still well in under $70. I wondered how much my erstwhile friend would have tried to take.
I had thought i would have to wait until after payday, but I could afford to fill the bike after all, and did so. Just as well, because she was thirsty, taking a full $28 worth. I had been running on empty. Still, not bad, $28 plus $5 worth of octane booster for almost 6 weeks riding. It is nearly three fortnightly paydays since I last bought petrol.
I am getting much better mileage – and performance – since I started using half a bottle of Cyclo Octane Boost in each tankful. And the bike sounds happier. At eleven dollars a bottle it is a good investment. I calculated some time ago that it boosted my mileage from around 270K per tank to over 360. 373 this last tankful. I had started using Cyclo because the bike was a bit sluggish on Fiji petrol, and i was very pleased to find that not only had I solved that problem but I got much better mileage. Butonce more I digress.
So: only half a day to register this time, and it needn’t even have been that long, had I dealt with the TIN earlier and scouted out an LTA testing place for myself, in advance. I must remember that Fiji has Yellow Pages.