2020 – The decade to tackle inefficiency and incompetency

A friend of mine that I have had from my schooldays, who now resides in Italy and has done so for over 10 years, came and stayed with us over the holiday period. Many subjects and topics were covered in the brief 24 hours he spent with us. Despite all the technical innovations that allow family and friends that these days are scattered all over the world to keep in regular contact with each other, nothing beats face-to-face contact.

Further on in the magazine I talk about how South Africa, as a country, is not alone when it comes to emergency power cuts and planned load shedding. Italy is not one of those countries that are high on this list but it does have its fair share of problems, as perceived by its citizens. According to my friend corruption and bureaucracy are the most notable frustrations to live with in Italy. We all know about the “mafia” of Italy but bureaucracy, and to the extent that it exists, I was unaware of. He cites two examples. When he first arrived in Italy he decided to convert an old farm barn into his home. What he didn’t realise was that this exercise would take an extraordinary amount of time all because of getting through the bureaucratic red tape and abiding by the rules. His experience was exasperated because of the attitude and competence of the tradesmen – electricians etc. – that he needed to call on. Sound familiar?

“Officials in Italy seem to love ensnaring us in the stuff and even the simplest processes seem to be made impossibly convoluted. And then there’s the additional cost of obtaining documents, having them translated and making copies of every page,” was his comment.

The second example was getting an international driver’s license. Here South Africa wins hands down. It takes us five minutes whereas in Italy it could take up to 10 days and all it requires is someone to stamp the papers that you have completed.

According to the scribes the concept of bureaucracy has been present in Italy since Roman times, when various organisational bodies were in charge of it, but not always acted fairly upon. Later on in history, bureaucracy grew closer to the principles of law and equal individual rights. However, because of some unexpected negative side effects in the organisation of public offices, the term burocrazia has ended up designating the inefficiency of the public system, characterised by corruption and bad handling of documents. Such negative connotations, always associated with a lack of efficiency, are sadly well rooted into Italian administration. Sound familiar?

It would be easy to assume the problem is caused by a lack of rules governing daily procedures, but a quick glance at the Italian bureaucratic legislation shows this is not entirely true. The real problem lies in the slowness of offices and in the inefficiency and negligence of some people working in the public system which, as a consequence, is overwhelmed with paperwork. Sound familiar?

Some experts believe that the lack of a good bureaucratic system does not only affect the interests of each individual citizen, but also damages greatly both the image and the economy of the country. Look what the then Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba did to tourism in South Africa when he introduced the controversial unabridged birth certificates rule for foreign minors travelling to South Africa. He should never have been allowed to pass the rule and thank goodness it has now been scrapped. He has also been sent to the political scrap heap.

What the conversation made me realise was that each country has its own problems and there is good and bad in bureaucracy. It is the inefficiency and the incompetency that we need to eliminate, whether it is in government or in private enterprise. This is a big ask but we need to make a start somewhere. How about the year 2020?