People queue. British people are famous for queuing. We queue just to get into another queue. We queue to ask about where we should queue. We separate queuing people with ropes and guide them with signs. We spilt queues when they get too big and start them again on somewhere else. We zig-zag queues to accommodate all the queuing people. Personally I had forgotten about this phenomena. However frustrating a queue may be, I prefer it to total and utter disorganization - i.e. Viet Nam. Not to say Vietnamese are disorganized, it is all for a reason...
Mounting experience with Vietnamese bureaucracy, most recently the registration of a motorbike, has exposed me to the systems within it. And the one rule of Vietnamese bureaucracy is : I don't know if there are any rules actually. Registering a bike seems like it should be a formality. It isn't. Arriving on a narrow main road deep into Binh Thanh District, a shop on one side of the street is the 'fixer'. Despite being a privately owned business, ALL bikes being registered must visit this place first (or one of the shops offering the same service). I'm sure the following scene is repeated throughout the city. Around ten young men work in the shop, along with the older administrative staff. They take off the front panel on the bike where the serial number is and prepare some paperwork for the police station across the road. Of course, no queue here. Just a 'who can shove to the front and get someone's attention first'. With roughly three new motorbikes arriving every minute, it's a lot of fun. Once they have done their bit and claimed 80,000 for 'insurance' (although I am not holding out hope of a payout), you can take the bike across the road to see the police, who read the number. Again, the 'queue' is just a stressful crush of bikes attacking a small portal from all angles. After this it's back across the road to the shop, where they offer to attach your numberplate to the bike (and make a killing by overcharging, a local garage will do it cheaper).
Stress. A queue is stressful, but a non-numbered, non-queue, non-order system? Which would you prefer? Some are catching on - Vietnam airways have a numbered ticket system, but you often see customers unfamiliar with it. In the government office for registration of births, deaths and marriages there is a numbered ticket system. In the office for registration of business licenses, there is not. What there is : no air conditioning and a small waiting room crammed full of, on estimate, about 200 people everyday, all with no system as to who is next.
Corruption. The guys in the motorbike registration 'shop' pay the police to provide this service. We 'pay them' as does the garage who sold the bike to us. Essentially, it is around 20 jobs and a lot of money changing hands simply so a lot of money changes hands. The whole registration system could be overhauled, computerized, not even touched by the consumer. Bikes should be plated by the time they reach the showroom -- but then who's going to make any money out of that? The guys in the business registration office -- they are on (seriously) low salary, so they have to make more money somehow. How are you going to get served quickly? You have to know someone. How do you know someone? You get an agent to help you. They do the paperwork, and as part of their job, they should have a contact (who obviously they pay). Problem is, some wily people change the staff in the office every three months, so you've got to be on the ball. We had an agent, but after a recent staff change he was stuck and Chi waited one whole afternoon and a morning before being served. The staff in the office have another trick up their sleeve to make money - they pass on your details to the newspapers. By law, a new company must make three announcements in a newspaper. Suddenly, the same day as your application was processed, newspapers start calling asking for you to place your announcement in their paper. Says something about your rights of privacy here as well! So, once again, an overhaul of the system would mean a lot of people (office staff, agents, journalists) lose out on a lot of business. It is not so easy to dismantle the apparatus of corruption, millions will be affected.
It is only the government who can set an example, starting first with their administrative offices, and show the people that they respect them, they are honest and they are professional. After being talked to (once again) like a piece of discarded rubbish by a customs official at the airport, a guy probably younger than me but feeling extremely powerful in his green uniform, and after experiencing all of the above, it is clear to see that Vietnam still has a long way to go. And I'm not even referring to my own standards, my wife and her friends discussed the bike registration system last night, lamenting the fact that it has not changed a single bit in the last five years - "no improvement" they murmured sadly. Someone, somewhere, has to be motivated for change but, stuck in a system of payoffs, kickbacks and shortcuts, who would risk their livelihood, no matter how they make it, to battle such an enormous system that pervades almost every aspect of society?