Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Civil servants messing with private citizens

Wherever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship.
- Harry S. Truman, 33rd US president (1884-1972)

Is that a logical contradiction committed by the former US president?

No, he meant that the dictatorship would be within the government bureaucracy, not in the world outside.

In order for people in government bureaucracies to feel confident enough to make decisions, they must be given the freedom to fail without having their heads chopped off (literally or figuratively). If only the top levels of the bureaucracy can make decisions that matter, very little moves and nothing much happens.

An example would be the old Soviet Union where any decisions made by the lower or middle echelon people could be overturned without reason by those above if the people at the top so chose. Citizens were known to have to go through sometimes dozens of layers of civil servants and endless paperwork in order to be able to do something, such as attend a conference in their discipline outside their country.

Might that internal dictatorship have a use? Only if it is a benificient dictatorship, which has almost never happened in history--power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Mistakes and foulups are an inherent part of bureaucracies. A few weeks ago I phoned our income tax ministry (in Canada) to see what I had to do to have a change made to past tax returns (I had a right to more money back). I was told to write a letter, listing the necessary information, but that forms would not be necessary. Yesterday I received a notice informing me that I would have to submit eight completed forms of each of two different types, plus submit a total of 96 receipts.

I have the receipts and the work is worth the refund, but I feel insulted that one government representative says one thing, then when I act on it another says something different. That's insulting and annoying. But not atypical for civil servants.

I will phone the person who sent the recent letter and ask why the extra caution when I had received different information in a phone call. In the case of any doubt on a matter of money (especially) it's best to speak with a live person about a problem. Messages are received and processed differently by people over the phone than they are on paper.

People behave differently. People think differently. People react differently. If everyone were the same, it would be a dictatorship in which little was accomplished.

Give them the benefit of the doubt. But speak to them in person anyway.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to put some of those annoying acts of government employees into perspective.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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