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Bureaucracy

 

Two highly qualified engineers complained to me about their low wages in two different ex Soviet countries. When I asked the question: "why donít you start up your own business?" they answered in almost the same words. It is extremely difficult to start up a viable business because of the complexity of the regulations and bureaucratic control, and because of the heavy tax load, unless you bribe the bureaucrats and fraud the tax collector. They explained that it was unthinkable to enter illegality without obtaining the Mafiaís complicity and protection, which involved complications and dangers that were hard to evaluate. Both also said that it was almost impossible to obtain Government or State Companies contracts without bribes.

Another person, a merchant, told me: "I prefer paying 20 percent of my profits to the Mafia for it to make sure the Administration wont bother me than pay taxes to the State. Taxes are a lot higher and may double without notice. The Mafia doesnít kill the goose that lays the golden egg but the Administration often does."

The tourist industry is a good example of uninspired bureaucracy. All ex Soviet Governments claim they wish to develop this industry in order to generate strong currency income. Many have invested considerable money in new tourist infrastructures. They however continue to greet tourists with the same armoury of obstacles that were designed to discourage the passage of foreigners under the old regime (requirement of an invitation to get a visa, high visa prices and long delays for delivery, obligation to register, etc.) Intouristís monopoly (the organization that was in charge of watching over foreign visitors) was weakened by the creation of a few private travel agencies but these are often under Intouristís control and they have a long way to go before they generate real competition. It looks as if these poor ex Soviet countries shoot themselves in the foot on purpose every time they can.

The idea of serving the public is unknown to the soviet society be it in matters of tourism or any other business. Everything is geared to be convenient to the service providers rather than to customers. In public administrations, the bureaucrat sits behind his wicket but there are no chairs for those who wait for his good will. In the busiest administrations, there are neither number dispensers nor barriers to facilitate orderly line-ups. Supplicants are abandoned to the scrum that seems to amuse the bureaucrats who see in the unruly scuffle the confirmation that the right to address to them is an invaluable privilege. If a payment is required, you have to go to a bank which most of the time is far away, and come back to re-submit your request with the appropriate bank receipt.

The hole in the wicket is generally very small and placed low so that the caller has to take a position of supplication to be heard by the favor dispenser. This disdainful attitude towards the client is everywhere. In the State stores, GUM, TSUM, Univermag, etc, sales attendants need coaxing to show off products, and they generally do it grudgingly. Customers bother them. For lack of air conditioning, the major stores I visited in Central Asia had electric fans to fight the sweltering summer heat. These were however always aimed behind the counters to relieve the salespeople rather than the customers. Once in a long while, a warm smile appeared in this cold indifference, but it was so rare that it looked like a lighthouse in the middle of a storm.

 

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