Curse of red tape

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readNov 13, 2018

Source: Google photo : Red tape and bureaucracy

Synopsis : The Bureaucracy and the red tapes it creates are often the bane of the government services in many countries. What is incredible is that people keep on making more red tapes instead of reducing them. This blog looks at the reason why red tapes are made and ways to make government services more efficient.

We have all faced red tape annoyance at some time in our lives that has caused numerous difficulties in getting the services offered by the government so today I will try to understand why the red tapes are created and how it affects the lives of millions of people worldwide in a very negative way.

I will start with a classic case of red tape when a fellow wanted a sheet of paper to write something because his office did not provide him with paper so he went to the clerk manning the photo copying machine and asked him for a sheet. The clerk answered that he could not give him a fresh sheet of paper due to stringent office regulations but could only give him a photocopy of a document.

So the gentleman, very annoyed at this point asked for a photocopy of a plain sheet and got one because of the red tape. It may sound hilarious but in fact it shows how stupid some people are who make such regulations in the first place.

Just walk into any government office anywhere in the world and demand a certain service and you will come up against rules and regulations no matter how ridiculous and insane they may be just like the clerk who would not give a plain sheet of paper before photocopying it.

The fundamental reason for any red tape is the premise that people cannot be trusted to be honest so they must be kept in line through innumerable rules and regulations. There are people who have nothing better to do than to create more forms to be filled up, more rules and more regulations adding to the overburdened list of such rules.

The senators and congressmen elected to their offices often through disreputable means spend a great deal of their time submitting new bills and regulations that they discuss endlessly and often fail to pass as law ( thankfully) because they tend to take their role as lawmakers very seriously indeed.

Sometimes it takes a courageous leader to cut the red tapes so that the country can make progress. One day Rajeev Gandhi who was then the Prime Minister of India, went to the office of the Ministry of Trade and Commerce totally unannounced and found the office desks with pile of files collecting dust. These were the applications from many industrialists who wanted to make many products and had applied more than 20 years ago giving up hope that they will ever get the permit due to massive red tape.

Mr. Gandhi was very surprised at this state of affairs and ordered all the desks to be cleared of all pending applications within 7 days and approve all the required permits that created panic among the clerks who were not accustomed to work like this. But the Prime Minister’s orders had to be obeyed so the desks were cleared and all the permits issued.

This also broke up the monopoly of certain manufacturers of scooters and other things so people who had to wait for five years just to buy a scooter were now very surprised to find the scooters easily available under various makes and brands.

The middle class is the motor that drives the economy because they create the demand for consumer goods that the industries then manufacture and compete with each other. The country as a whole makes progress through the process of industrialization because it helps improve the lives of ordinary people.

Now if you go to India, you will see how many choices people have when they want to buy something. Scooters, motorcycles and mopeds are now sold on the sidewalk en masse and still only a few people buy them because almost everyone has them already. Now the middle class is buying small cars in record numbers so the car market is vibrant and comes up with new models every season.

Another dynamic Prime Minister is Mr. Modi who is moving India toward an efficient country where most of the government services are being offered on line and digital payment system is being introduced nationwide cutting down the red tapes. Recently he announced that a Government loan of upto 10 million Rupees ( almost 138000 USD) will be approved within 59 minutes when people apply on line to improve their small scale business. This is very good news for the entrepreneurs who were given run around by the banks for years just to get a small loan for their business.

He has also ordered a thorough review of all laws created during the colonial period that is now redundant that should be scrapped.

The red tape creates massive corruption at every level in any society. Just go to any office in any country and you will find people sitting at their desks whole day just pushing papers and rubber stamping documents like morons because twenty different signatures are required just to approve something. I knew a German fellow who went to Dar Es Salam in Tanzania to get his car that he had imported and had paid all the dues on the car but he could not get his car because someone needed to sign the papers. After waiting a long time , one day he got hold of his keys and just drove off.

I was a victim of such corruption when I applied for my passport for the first time and got very impatient after waiting for over nine months so I decided to go to Delhi and see the big boss myself and plead my case. Soon my dusty file was brought out by the clerk who could not explain why it was sitting there for nine months. The big boss assured me that I should return home because he will do what he can. My passport came within 7 days.

Another case I must mention here that shows how deep rooted corruption is in India when a widow went to her husband’s office to claim her benefits due to her but the clerks gave her a run around hinting that she must pay a bribe to expedite her case. She was helpless and needed the money so she agreed. Then the same clerk who was giving her difficulties said that all will be done shortly so she got the benefits finally.

Now the Prime Minister wants to make all such transaction transparent and speedy so that the public does not suffer needlessly. India is making it easier for the foreign companies to do business there by quick approval of applications and speedier implementation of the government decisions.

In other countries where corruption is rife, people still have to pay bribes to get things done. One Saudi Arabian gentleman who is super rich says that he only takes a 10 to 15 % commission on any deal that he approves so the companies inflate their bidding price to include the bribe. This is still the practice in many countries where the ministers get super rich through such commission.

When I was in Khartoum, I was offered 10 % commission on anything I bought for my project. When I said that the seller should reduce the bill by the amount of the commission so that they could win the bidding, they refused. Another fellow insisted that I pay him for the newspaper ad I had put in to recruit some local staff and would not show me the newspaper office to pay my dues because he was also a commissioner so such corruption is widespread.

The red tapes create corruption because it creates the opportunities for people to seek bribe just to do their job. If you refuse to pay then your application collects dust just like my passport case. I had to travel over 1400 kms to go to Delhi.

The red tape also creates jobs for those clerks who sit at their desks stamping papers whole day, day after day like robots and take no initiative to expedite the cases they are to handle. It also promotes an atmosphere of distrust and no accountability. I just read that the Australians also suffer from red tapes and complicated bureaucracy.

The most notorious case of red tape affects the judiciary that drowns in red tape and backlog of cases that never come up for presentation in the court system. There the omnipotent clerks are the masters who decide whose case will be heard and when depending upon how much bribe they can extract from the hapless citizens who clamor for justice.

The courts in India present a depressing site where black gown clad lawyers outnumber flies and where the poor and distressed citizens wait endlessly for their cases to be heard but they are at the mercy of these vultures who have no compassion for the litigants and demand bribes for their services.

This is the legacy of the British colonial system that the courts adopted in India including the obsolete laws they can’t get rid of. It is just as bad in England as it is in India but new and dynamic judges can make a difference by instituting reforms in the judicial process, by computerizing the cases and the documents, by making the process transparent and speedy, by computerizing zillions of laws and bylaws for easy reference and access etc. Remember that justice delayed is justice denied.

I was very impressed by the Prime Minister Modi who abolished the office of the Planning Commission of India where some 20000 clerks worked to develop the five year plan of development of India and micromanaged even the size of nails to be used somewhere. It was absurd that so many people wasted the government resources on their salaries but they wanted to protect their jobs. I do not know what happened to those clerks. May be they were absorbed in other offices and retrained .

So really it takes a very dynamic and determined person like Mr. Modi to bring about reforms into moribund offices and make them more streamlined and efficient. Such people are not afraid to rock the boat that maintains status quo.

I think there has to be a review of all the bureaucratic processes in every country to make them paper less if possible or use less papers and less stamps so that corruption generated by the red tapes is reduced if not totally eliminated. There are good examples of good services provided by the governments in many countries like in Scandinavia and Japan or Korea where the common people avail the services speedily without any fuss in a transparent fashion.

We are now living in the age of fast computers and paperless transactions that leave an electronic trail which can be followed up easily in case of need. Most of all such reforms are so necessary to revolutionize the government services in all democratic and even non democratic countries to make life easier for the common man. Paperless transactions are also eco friendly to say the least. Imagine how many millions of trees can be saved if most offices go paperless?

Most of all people must learn to trust each other because this lack of trust is the foundation on which red tapes are built. There has to be accountability for those who make life difficult for others so either they must shape up or be fired.

So learn from the countries that offer excellent services to their citizens so that their practices can be emulated. India is fighting corruption by eliminating middle men in transactions so your money earned can now be directly remitted into your account that you can then withdraw through the ATM anytime. Computers also speed up the processing for the services that used to require a lot of manual checking.

I think taking bribe for doing your job is a sin that must be eliminated in any modern society that aspires to make progress. ( Please read my blog called The monster called corruption in this regard).

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