Bureaucracy – a Portuguese tragedy

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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One Response to Bureaucracy – a Portuguese tragedy

  1. Teresa Millward says:

    Great Rog. Interesting read. T X

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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