The Italian Almanac



The latest project in the Italian government's bid to create better relations between tax-payers and tax authorities has black hair, dark brown eyes an infinite supply of patience. Betty is a 'Human Digital Assistant' created by the finance ministry to help self-employed Italians fill out and submit their tax returns on line. She inhabits a sophisticated software package which officials hope will come into use in the autumn.

With her smart cream blouse and tanned complexion, she has a very Italian look to her. The only complaint so far is that she has a slightly metallic voice. "The strategy is to move away from a passive tax administration to a pro-active one which proposes solutions and simpler procedures to the tax-payer," said Massimo Romano, head of state tax authorities. "We're aiming at a more pleasant relationship between the two sides," he continued.

One of the promises made by the centre-left government of Romano Prodi was that it would get tough on tax evasion through more frequent checks and thorough investigations. Betty, who will have to deal with an estimated 90 tax declarations a year, appears to have the same goal in mind but to approach it in a friendlier way. She will guide the tax payer through a series of personalised vocal instructions, warning users if they have forgotten important information or made a mistake with the various tax codes. At the end, she announces the successful conclusion of the "dialogue" undertaken with tax authorities.