Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rule of bureaucracy

Because students have limited experience with non-school bureaucracy, this is a difficult topic for them to get a good handle on. Maybe this article will help.

No stamp of approval for Mexico bureaucrats

"Arturo Sandria visited government agencies not once, not twice, not three times. (Hint: Try an even dozen.) He stood in mind-numbing lines, filled out forms, took another number, filled out more forms and, he says, paid $250 in bribes.

"But after six months, he was still in pursuit of his prize: a permit to paint his house...

"'There could be three or four more,' said Sandria, a stocky man in a red Miami Heat jacket. 'I could get up there and they could say, "You're missing a check mark or a period.'"'

"Sandria's ordeal in red tape is excruciatingly familiar to many Mexicans, who long ago learned to weather a day-to-day obstacle course of bureaucratic requirements, or tramites (TRAH-mee-tehs), that would probably send most Americans into fits of hair-pulling.

"As in the United States, there are tramites for opening a business, registering a car, building a porch. But what puts Mexican red tape in a league of its own are the reams of required paperwork -- identification, proof of residence, birth certificates, deeds and titles -- and a bureaucracy that can be as picky as it is ponderous.

"Too often, many Mexicans complain, only bribes seem to get the creaky wheels of government turning. [A study last year by the nonprofit group Transparency Mexico found that Mexico's 105 million residents annually pay bribes totaling more than $2 billion, often for basic services such as getting a water line installed or garbage collected.]

"So it stirred a sense of sweet vengeance when the government of President Felipe Calderon recently offered cash prizes in a contest to identify the country's 'most useless tramite.' An ad campaign depicted a haggard resident, laden with files, standing before a glowering bureaucrat...

"Despite Calderon's call to slim down the government, today there are more than 4,200 federal tramites, nearly double the number in place before his conservative party took over from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose 70-year rule ended in electoral defeat in 2000.

"Officials say the big jump resulted from bureaucrats run amok as they sought to reshape the Mexican system, and from the PAN's effort to codify government procedures after the PRI's long rule, during which benefits were often doled out willy-nilly by local bosses...

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