Streamlining the bureaucracy [Archives:2004/719/Opinion]

March 11 2004

One of the major areas by which the public has now almost become frightened of getting enmeshed is having to process various requirements or applications for services through the government bureaucracy. While it is wonderful to see our government offices equipped with state of the art computer capacity and equipment, one cannot fail to notice that any dealings with the government by the public at large involve a myriad of red tape and bureaucratic procedures. In many cases all this red tape is enough to scare any petitioner and may actually lead to the deprivation of countless citizens from government services, because of being unable to bear all the requirements or devote the time and the patience required to complete their processing.
While much has been said about Government reform on a broad plane, little has been actually undertaken to institute procedures in Government activity and functions that considerably cut the awesome bureaucratic ordeal that citizens must confront in dealing with their Government. The bureaucratic nightmare is a common denominator of almost all the Ministries and this observer has heard similar public complaints of the agony that petitioners must go through to apply for certain services or even licenses. Surely, this is not indicative of a Government that seeks to make life easier for its people, or to attract local or foreign investment in development projects, both private and public. One might even suggest that streamlining the bureaucratic procedures for all government activity will go along way towards achievement of the objectives of the Economic, Financial and Administrative Reform Program, which has been pursued since 1995.
It is not clear what led to the development of almost an impossible bureaucratic framework that costs the concerned petitioners a great length of time, and requires substantial expense (both direct and opportunity cost) and of course a lot of patience. It could probably be due to the lack of real progress towards implementing the administrative aspects of the reform program, but the reform program in this field would never in itself be sufficient to alleviate the monumental tasks the public is forced to go through in order to handle their petitions.
The obvious dehumanizing steps that must be undertaken to accomplish certain government requirements or to benefit from certain government services or programs are actually a drawback to any hopes for development or for encouragement of a greater role for the private sector in energizing the economy. So many are the complaints that the observer has encountered and so many actual experiences of the observer in dealing with the Government bureaucracy are enough to indicate that there is ample room for improvement in the way the Government directly deals with the public. There are so many different steps involved in getting a certain petition through any of the majority of the Government ministries and authorities that one is inclined to believe that logic and common sense have no place in Government administration of its various functions.
The overriding characteristics of government bureaucratic framework may be summarized as follows:
1) The petitioner is forced to go through every agonizing step of processing the petition.
2) There are no set procedures that are clearly laid out and outlined to the public to be able to determine ahead of time both the requirements of certain transactions and the flow chart for the various processing tasks involved.
3) There is a lot of time wasted by the obvious absence of so many employees on any given time.
4) There is a lot of duplication of requirements for a given transaction and within a given Ministry or Authority.
5) There are no clear delineations of authority and most important decisions are left to the head of the Ministry or Authority, even for already approved or appropriated transactions. Often the head of the unit will see the same transaction passed to him at least three times, from the time the petition is presented to the issuance of the license, check or final ruling or opinion, as the case may be.
6) Even intergovernmental processing of various government activities entails a significant amount of red tape and “reapprovals”.
7) There is no measuring yardstick to determine the efficiency of administrative handling of various government functions or dealings with the public, except for the despair that is visible on the faces of the hundreds of people running around the halls of government offices at any given time, desperately seeking the last conclusive step for their applications or procedures.
8) Some people manage to speedily complete the procedures in the minimum of time, as they enjoy the ample influence their social and political positions may generate, all under the noses of the “normal” people that must go through all the tedious steps, many of which are practically and logically unnecessary (like producing countless copies of documents that are issued by the same Ministry or authority which are certified authentic “as good as the original”, for the different departments they have to go through within the same ministry or authority.
9) The lack of accountability and clear job descriptions as well as performance evaluations has been a major encouragement for the development of this bureaucratic nightmare and leads to corruption, extortion and embezzlement, with almost no recourse for the public except to submit.
Surely, the Yemeni people deserve much better and speedier ways to deal with their government, if social degeneration is to be discouraged.