Bureaucracy – a Portuguese tragedy

December 29, 2016

Everyone who lives here will have a horror story about bureaucracy.  Wherever you look, there is a problem and, although It’s easy to make jokes about it, ultimately, it is a tragedy for the Portuguese people.   The average salary here is 984£.  In Spain, it is 1718€, almost double.  Yet, costs are the same.  Result: stagnation, poverty, corruption, economic depression, poor social security and a collapsing health service.  The result is Portugal’s largest export; its qualified young people.

The Portuguese are no less intelligent than the Spanish and they certainly work as hard; I know quite a few people who do two jobs to make ends meet.  So, why the massive disparity in salaries?  One of the reasons is that when Spain ceased to be a fascist dictatorship, it radically overhauled its attitude to the way it did things and looked to the northern Europe model.  This meant sweeping away 40 years of top-down autocracy and replacing it with a system that works for the people.  In Portugal, most of that still remains.

Examples are everywhere; the fact that every small town needs a notary (there are no notaries in northern Europe – they’re not needed).  The fact that those same towns have special offices where citizens can pay someone to do the paper trail for them (also unknown in northern Europe).  The fact that you cannot run a business without employing an accountant.  Here’s an interesting statistic that I am told is true: Lagos Câmara (population 31,000) has the same number of employees as Hamburg (population 1.7 million).  That says it all for me.

In my experience, bureaucracies feed off themselves.  They get to a certain size then become like a clockwork orange, sitting there, making a noise but doing nothing.  In northern Europe, when you need to start a paper trail, the process is made easy for you. The requirements are clear.  You meet the requirements, you get the result.  Here, every official seems to have a mission to obstruct as far as possible.  There are good signs however; the growing numbers of Balcões Unicos and Lojas da Cidadão are revolutionary and work really well.  It’s start, but there’s a long way to go.

I’ve noticed that bureaucrats don’t trust anyone, making the assumption that everyone is dishonest.  The idea of self-declaration of tax (as done in UK) just wouldn’t work here.  One of the reasons for the crippling bureaucracy is this mistrust.  My message is this; make it easier and most people will be honest.  Bureaucracy creates corruption but bureaucracy is more damaging than corruption.  Bureaucracy affects everyone but not everyone is corrupt.  The perverse fact is that bureaucracy actually encourages corruption because it is sometimes easier to bribe than to fight.  Therefore, if bureaucracy is reduced, corruption would naturally reduce.  Result.

Some of these bureaucrats may feel that they’re just doing their job and that if the system was simpler, they’d lose their jobs.  So, job security is an issue but, and here is my main point, If the systems were simplified it would lead quickly to greater economic growth, less unemployment, increasing salaries and increased tax revenues.  If it was easier to start a company, to take an idea to production, to be an entrepreneur, to provide a service, to get a licence for anything, economic growth would be a natural result as the economy is released from the prison of state bureaucracy.  Who knows; we may even reach the point where the people could afford to use their own motorways.

Everyone can see the problem yet no one does anything.  That is the Portuguese tragedy, the lack of empowerment felt by the people. Well, wake up and smell the roses!  Brexit and Trump have shown that elsewhere in the world the people are starting to realise that the system isn’t working for them.   So, what’s the solution?  Simple, actually.  It’s a second bloodless Revoluçâo dos Cravos, it will cost nothing, it will reduce government spending, it will increase salaries and standards of living and it can be done right now.  It doesn’t need a change in the law, it doesn’t need a government edict.  It can be done by anyone.  Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  How?  Well, it’s not rocket science.

OK, First.  There is a government Ombudsman, the Provedor da Justiça (http://www.provedor-jus.pt).  He is there specifically to handle complaints of bureaucratic maladministration.  If everyone who is affected by this wrote to him, he would soon get the message.  It just takes a letter.  He is well connected.  He has powerful friends.  The second is that every person administering a bureaucratic process must take action themselves.  It means going up the chain and trying to simplify things.  Every manager needs to add this to their objectives.

So, it requires every person in the country to act. Those affected by bureaucracy need to complain.  Those who can do something about it must do so.  I think that covers pretty well everyone in the country.  Most people don’t want a fight, but the last time the people stood together was in 1974 and the government backed down; there was no fight.  There needs to be public ridicule of the worst excesses; maybe a weekly piece in The Portugal News to keep the issue in the public eye.  I don’t think they’ll be short of material.

Don’t wait for the politicians to take action; they won’t.  The people themselves need to act.  Don’t wait for someone else to do it.  Do it yourself.  You can do it and it’s your right.

Within a couple of years, you will see the seeds starting to grow.  It will cost nothing.  Everyone will benefit.  Everyone can do it.  It just takes the will.  Do it now.

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A few thoughts on Brexit

December 1, 2016

Now that the dust has settled and we can see the magnitude of the self-imposed calamity that the British public has chosen for itself, it’s time to collect my thoughts and raise a few issues that interest me.

The Brexiteers were predominantly telling half-truths or lies and the public believed them.  The Remainers were predominantly telling the truth but it was dubbed ‘Project Fear’ and the public didn’t believe them.  The Sun told people how to vote and the Sun is always right.  The people (and I know plenty of them) voted Brexit for all the wrong reasons; immigration brought out the nastier side of a prejudiced nation (xenophobia is not far below the surface of most EU states) and was at the forefront of people’s minds.  The issues should have been rooted in the economy; the vote was a decision to leave the world’s largest and most prosperous free trade block and must go down in history as one of the most stupid decisions made by any population, ever.  It was a decision to commit national commercial suicide.  Not one of the promises made by the Brexiteers will come to pass.  Not one.

I agree that Europe is far from perfect and that the idea of a common currency without fiscal union of some sort was badly judged.  However, the problems could have been sorted out from within rather than storming out of the room.  Immigration is a red herring; I don’t know a single person in UK who even knows an immigrant let alone been disadvantaged by them.  It was a fake issue playing to the emotions of xenophobes, whipped up by the Sun, Daily Mail and Express.  My message to them is that the UK they yearn for probably never existed and will certainly never come back.  What they have voted for is a progressive economic decline, increased costs of energy and imports, further undermanning of the NHS and farming, increased inflation and increasing unemployment.  What they have lost is to be part of the great European project that has kept Europe at peace for the longest period in the past two millennia.

I am still staggered by the gullibility of the UK public who believe the web of half-truths and selective facts presented to them by the mainstream media, most of which is right-wing propaganda, the Murdoch press being the greatest culprit.  Murdoch is an ex-Australian now American billionaire who controls an international news empire that feeds propaganda to a gullible public world-wide who are too busy earning a living to find out the truth.  He dominates the UK press and yet no one thinks it’s in any way strange.  Unbelievable!  Yet, all the information is out there due to social media and the digital revolution; all you need is the time and interest to dig it out.   Witness the failure of the press to predict the outcomes of Brexit or the US election and I see some glimmer of hope.  People are starting to question the stance taken by most of the press.  They are realising that the press is talking to itself, not to them.

So, we’ve seen what we, The People, can do.  Fed up with political correctness and being fed a load of lies by the press, The People have spoken.  Should we rejoice?  No.  Absolutely not.  If the referendum wa run again tomorrow, the decision would be different.  However, that is not going to happen.  The result is a lurch towards the right in political parties and that has to be bad for everyone.  History repeats itself.  The Great Depression led to the rise of Fascism and World War II.  The crash of 2008 was actually worse than in the 1930s and was the greatest theft in the history of mankind.  With the exception of a few Icelandic bankers, no one has been brought to book.  That, coupled with a US foreign policy that is determined to sow the seeds of discord and violence around the world and you have where we are today, poverty in Africa, war in the Middle East and, of course, the refugee crisis.  This has all led to an increase in right-wing sentiments, if not outright fascism, and it is led from the US and fanned by the press.  It has resulted in the most powerful nation on earth voting in….oh, let’s not go there.  I just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself too precisely.

There is a famous Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times’.  I think 2017 will be an interesting time.

Depressed?  You should be.