The bureaucracy in Portugal is so perverse that every town has private offices that have been set up to simply get you through it. They mostly have Portuguese clients who simply cannot cope with the red tape that makes the Victorian Indian civil service seem like a paradigm of a sleek, efficient organisation. Anyway, the senhora who is dealing with my car legalisation was on the phone yesterday. Problems, Mr Roger. Can you come round to the office? It turns out that the six months to legalise the car starts from the date I left Germany, not my Residência, and the time limit has expired because of the time taken to do the paper trail. So, that’s the scam. There is a way of avoiding the illegal car import tax but the process takes more than 6 months, so usually fails. I don’t know anyone who has succeeded. The bottom line is that I could (1) burn the car (2) take it to Spain every six months, (3) take it back to Germany and sell it or (4) pay the tax. In the end, I chose option 4, with enormous reluctance and much gritting of teeth. 4,784.53€. I won’t repeat that. It hurts too much.
When I visited the customs office, I realised how the recesson has affected the Portuguese civil service. A great, shabby office was manned by only two people; the rest have been laid off. So, can I console myself that I am helping the Portuguese government get out of the hole thay have created for themselves? Maybe, but I can’t help feeling I have been mugged.
On the other hand, I have chosen to live in this country and getting frustrated here is a bit like getting frustrated at airports. You have to get over it because you can’t do anything about it. But, there are compensations. Today is sunny and about 17 degrees, spring is in the air, blue skies every day, we have had little rain since way before Christmas, the food is good, oranges cost 1.50€ for 5 kilos, the lifestyle is relaxed and I look out over a garden with a swimming pool. Things could be worse.
Now that I have surrendered to the bureaucrats, I get my plates tomorrow. You see how easy it was? Pay the illegal tax and everything happens. Smiley faces. Try to avoid it and you face months of frustration and ultimate failure. Of course, I will be drafting a magnificent letter of complaint to the EU Ombudsman, who I happen to know is a Good Guy. It won’t make any difference, but what else can an EU citizen do when a democratically-elected government breaks European law? I can’t help commenting that, although Salazar died 40 years ago and Portugal is no longer a fascist dictatorship, a lot of the old ways linger. Witness the local police, the GNR, who spend their time setting up road blocks, fining motorists for trivial supposed offences. Fines on the spot, straight into the pockets. No yellow jacket? 60€ faz favor. Bribes to avoid anything worse. It all goes on, believe me. Salaries are bad so they have to find a protection racket to fill their pockets.
In deliberately breaking EU laws on a daily basis, certain aspects of the Portuguese government also seem rather similar to the mafia. The rot starts at the top and Portugal could do well to look at Germany, Netherlands or UK to see how to do things better. They need to regenerate the economy but the bureaucracy acts as a road block at every turn. There is a massive black economy here and I can’t help sympathising. When the government behaves like mafiosi, why should its citizens comply with the law? Portugal has a long way to go and only we foreigners are able to see it because the Portuguese think it’s normal. Welcome to Portugal. Give me your money. There I go again…..I’be better get used to it, I guess.