Explaining the Inexplicable

BureaucracyI have often said that without fundamental reforms of the legal system (and other basic systems) Brazil will always be a hopeless mess, period. The financial markets may consider the problem irrelevant in the context of short term gains; the politicians may choose to ignore it while buying votes and sending large sums of stolen money to Switzerland; and the vast majority of the great unwashed don’t have much of a clue about it anyway – but it remains (one of) Brazil’s most intractable problems and in reality is far more important that what political party happens to be running the asylum at any given moment.

Anyway, while I was en route yesterday to waste my valuable time in the pursuit of yet another ludicrous, unnecessary chore perpetrated on us by these dysfunctional systems, it occurred to me that while people in other third world countries generally nod and recognize the problem, those who live in the developed world generally don’t quite ´get´ what it’s all about. So here is a (very minor) example to illustrate the point.george-carlin-never-underestimate

The task facing us in this case was to give someone a note to confirm they could represent us at a meeting. Nothing complicated – just that. If we were in a functional society, we would probably just bang off an email – Dear so-and-so, we propose X. Yours etc., or perhaps just ring up and advise the person organising the meeting. But this is not enough in Brazil, because here, everyone is trying to steal from everyone else before everyone else steals from them. So of course no-one trusts anyone else, and a labyrinthine bureaucracy has sprung up to waste everyone’s time on the point. What we must do is prepare a formal document with a lot of silly terminology in it (we have now already grown a simple and clear one-liner into an obscure shaggy dog story). This stupidly long text now needs to be properly signed and dated….and then we have to go to a place called a cartório to have our signature witnessed and registered on “the system”. And once this is done, we have to get the cartório to confirm that the signature on the proposal is really our signature. They then have to stamp the document as “Recognised”, and sign it (it’s a wonder you don’t have to go to another cartório get them to “recognize” the signature of the first cartório).

How long does this take? Well, to get your document “Recognised”, you have to take it to the right cartório, take a number and wait in line. Then you give your document to a numpty who checks it to see if they can be bothered doing their job, and then gives you another number. You leave the numpty with the document and go to another queue to queue up and pay for their invaluable service. You (eventually) get a receipt for your payment, and…then you have to go to another queue to wait for your document to emerge from “the system” with the relevant stamp and signature on it.

But why, I hear you ask, can’t the original numpty just do the whole thing? Ah, well, remember that in Brazil everyone is trying to steal from everyone else, right?  You must have a clear division of labour in your business (or government department or hospital or whatever) and you don´t want any employee to be able to do the work AND receive the money, otherwise they would just steal it (and, in my experience, they usually do – or at least a percentage of it).

In our particular case, the person who had prepared the document (you see you can’t just prepare it yourself, can you, because it has all those silly words in it) had dated the document 10th May instead of 10th April, and this very nearly put the kibosh on the whole deal. Well, we can’t possibly “recognize” a signature on a document that has a future date on it, can we?  Goodness me, no. You see even if, as in this case, the date is completely irrelevant to the “recognition”, it is clear evidence of a plot to steal some money from someone, somewhere down the line. Fortunately in this case, the author’s amazing charm allowed us to side-step the issue by tippexing carta_800out the wrong date and writing the correct date over the top (this is okay because they saw me do it – clearly the idea that someone could do it later, after the document was stamped etc, did not occur to anyone). It was a close run thing, though – but for the goodwill of the numpty, it would have been necessary (and it happens regularly to all those who have to confront this moronic system) to go back to square one, get the document prepared again and return to have the new document “recognized”.

So you can see, just from this minor example, why Brazil is in the mess it is in. Something that would take, what, 10 minutes in the USA?, can easily take up to two days in Brazil. You multiply that by the number of people wanting to do a simple transaction like this every day (a business transaction, a request to the bank, cancellation of service, a renewal of an agreement etc etc etc….) and perhaps you can imagine the thousands and thousands and thousands of unproductive hours squandered by Brazil every single day of every single week of every single month of every single year.

Any comments, please get them reconhecidos before you submit them (or just bribe me to look the other way) 😉

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2 Responses to Explaining the Inexplicable

  1. Maninmanaus says:

    Ha ha – thanks. Probably have to pay the postman to get it delivered…


  2. Tim Vincent says:

    Your bribe “is in the post”.


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