Dennie Quill, Columnist
"The law does not require it, but we do."
Such is the bureaucratic arrogance dished out to a friend of mine who recently found himself in front of a functionary at a major government department in Kingston. Understandably, he was fit to be tied after two weeks of going back and forth to that office without accomplishing his objective.
I had to console him with the fact that his was not a unique experience, and that the worker did not have anything against him personally. Many people I know have at least one story of a frustrating encounter with government agencies.
They run the gamut of rude exchanges, shabby customer service, long periods of holding on to the phone, poor work ethic and contemptible attitude. It could be something as simple as giving a statement to the police after an accident or getting a marriage certificate from the Registrar General's Department (RGD).
The case against bureaucracy has been made repeatedly, and each new administration comes to office vowing to reduce red tape and promising to provide a new vision for managing government affairs. Yet waste continues to eat away our tax dollars and unenforced new rules are piled atop old ones.
Public-sector workers never miss an opportunity to demonstrate the enormous power they have over the rest of us by making up rules to frustrate citizens as they seek to get along with their lives. Bureaucracy is the number one impediment to business, as it leads to the slowing down of every business decision. There are myriad costs to society because of bureaucracy.
Executive agencies were established to shake off the shackles of bureaucracy and simplify many of the processes required to do business with government. In furtherance of this goal, certain government departments were targeted for executive agency status, and they began focusing on customer service and ways to improve how the State conducts its business.
RGD AND INSPORTS
The RGD is one such executive agency. The department has regularly released performance data to demonstrate how successful it has become as an executive agency. Yet for all its successes, members of the public still complain of difficulties with obtaining documentation from that office in a timely manner. Something like the incorrect spelling of someone's maiden name on a marriage certificate can tie up a couple in knots for many months before a solution is eventually found. The couple would have lost valuable time and spent other resources unnecessarily over those months.
Anyone who believes that I am exaggerating the point about how bureaucracy can stifle progress need only to look at the experience of the Institute of Sports (INSPORTS), an agency of government which has had a donation of valuable baseball equipment sitting on the wharves since March. The equipment is needed to advance a programme of baseball in schools.
According to press reports, INSPORTS is waiting on a letter from the Ministry of Sports and a tax compliance certificate in order to clear the goods. If it takes that long for a government agency to manoeuvre the bureaucratic hurdle, how would someone in the private sector fare?
And so we must inevitably come to the question of corruption. Bureaucracy gives rise to corruption because someone who is anxious to move ahead could be tempted to pay a willing worker to circumvent the complicated web of paperwork and get the necessary approval.
The growth of bureaucracy leads to the expansion of corruption. In these tough economic times, it is not difficult for frustrated persons to find a willing palm that is waiting for lubrication. For many in government, corrupt earning is the path to survival.
And even though there are several mechanisms to measure accountability in our society, we hear persistent whispers of corrupt practices in high places. These whispers are often crystallised in the annual reports of the auditor general and the contractor general.
Bureaucracy and corruption are the terrible twins that have been the bane of our existence for far too long. A comprehensive overhaul of bureaucracy seems like the only way to move forward.
Dennie Quill is a veteran media practitioner. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.