I am sitting inside the public works office of the council as I write this. Scorpions is singing Wind of Change on the radio, a little too loud for anyone to concentrate properly on a basic task. Two guys are checking FB, one of them casually seated on the other one’s desk, two ladies decided it was too hot to hang in the office and are enjoying the breeze on the balcony, overlooking the lake.
Today, I have been there for one hour. I don’t mind, I brought my laptop, my internet modem, and my charger to plug in and charge my battery. I am ready to spend the whole day if that is what it takes. What am I waiting for? A letter. One small piece of paper, that I was told I would get 10 days ago.
Flash back 10 days, I take the director of works to my 90 acres development to show him around. I had to pick him up, drive him around and drop him off back at the council because “it is hard to get the council to lend us cars”. There are two options, I say. Either we benefit the whole village by giving you guys land for a football field, access to our roads that are a shortcut to the other half of the village, the water from our well and space to build a school or a health center, and in return you administrate all those infrastructures and take care of maintenance.
The second option is that we take care of it all ourselves, and only our residents will get access to those service, that they will pay for via a service charge. There will be an entrance gate and only residents will get in and out.
The guy nods and sweats a little too much as we visit the land. I need his blessing to go ahead with the development in order to split my land in 250 parcels and get a deed for each of them. He says he wants to estimate how much this will cost the village, and how much they will get in extra property taxes. Fair enough. Can you give me the green light to split my PRIVATE property into 250 plots if we go private and it doesn’t cost you a dime? “Sure” He says. We go back to his office, he makes me sit at his desk and I type my application requesting approval to cut my land into 250 on his computer.
“I will make a letter on behalf of the council to ask cadaster to split the land, and give it to cadaster together with your application” he says.
When? “This afternoon. And I will take it to cadaster”.
A week later, I drop by at the cadaster’s office, no letter has been received. I go back to my council guy, he says he gave it to cadaster.
“Oh, funny, to whom exactly? Because there are two guys working there and I talked to both of them, they have nothing”.
“Errrr….” blank look, you can’t blame him or he will do nothing more. You have to gently pat him in the back and ask once more.
“OK, will you send it again?”
“Yes, I will”.
“Will you send me a copy by email?”
“Yes, I will”.
“Are you sure?”
I believed the guy and went away. I would have seated him right down at his office to type the letter, but the power was out and all the overheated public servants were outside taking some fresh air.
He promised he would do it the same day, once the power returns, and he didn’t. Nor did he email me. He did NOTHING. I know I am no center of the universe and I get that people are busy, I don’t get when they are not true to their word twice and lie to my face. So now, two days later, I am back in his office, waiting for him. He probably went out for a walk. Five workers are now gossiping and laughing around the one who was checking FB earlier. I pay taxes to support them all. And I am pretty sure I am not getting my letter, there will be something wrong, another paper I need to bring, another obstacle. Maybe he didn’t appreciate my clearly saying we would not pay a dime in bribes. A couple of minutes after I said that, he said “so you are probably better off doing your private project”. Sure I am, but if you give me the go ahead to walk, why to you grab my feet to slow me down??
Man, I get it. You are there because your corrupt political friend gave you a job and no one can fire you, no matter how bad people complain against you, your job is safe. So tell me the letter will take 2 weeks with your half awake eyes and your sneaky smile, I will wait patiently. Don’t tell me you’ll do it today, or I will be over you every single day until you do. Don’t look me in the eyes and tell me you did it already or I will go ridicule you at the other office when they see you are not a man or your word. Come on, think twice. You are about to multiply my taxes per 30 or 50 once the land is split, why aren’t you in a hurry to do so?
A friend of mine works closely with councils on government projects. There was an earthquake last year and he had some NGOs willing to give tools and construction materials to the councils to rebuild their village. All they had to do was a letter stating what was needed and what for. Out of four mayors he visited, only one send a letter 3 months later basically requesting cash. Easier than having to sell the NGO’s tools at a heavy discount to get his hands on the money, that would have been so much work.
But that guy lying to my face is a whole different level of fucked up. It is just a silly game of hide and seek, as soon as I turn my back, he would dismiss my case and do nothing on purpose. Depressing. I am planning on exhausting him first.
Once I was stopped with another foreign friend, on his motorbike. We had the bike’s papers in photocopies, not originals, which is not legal, but knowing you get mugged easily in Guatemala, and anyone with the bike’s paper can go change them to his name, you can understand why we would not carry them. The guy didn’t want to give us a fine, just to get a little money for him. I explained over and over that it was too dangerous to carry the bike’s papers around and that I would be happy to bring the papers later that day to a nearby police station. It took a good half hour but seeing we wouldn’t budge, they stopped another car as a potential target. Quicker, easier. That is my strategy with that guy, but boy, do I want to scream at their blatant incompetence. It has been one hour since I started this post. Like I said, it is hard to concentrate with the music and the gossip.The five guys who grouped around FB are now only three, talking about betting on sports and how much they drank on their last night out. Another one is whistling to Radiohead’s creep. I wonder how the village ever got streets and electric power.
Update: after about two hours of sitting in the office, a guy tells me the boss isn’t going to be there until tomorrow. I manage to call him (after realizing he had given me a wrong number, his colleague gives me the real stuff) and book an appointment for the next day. He invites the cadaster guy to sit with us to confirm he really has to sign my letter. I tell him he lied to me about 5 times, he pretends the internet was down so he couldn’t email the letter. So why were his colleagues on FB all day yesterday? He may not have been able to send it but should have it ready on his computer then? Pointing fingers won’t help progress so I have redacted the letter for him to copy paste on headed paperand after confirmation, not a real confirmation, but a kind of “yeah” from the other guy who I kept interrupting every time I thought he was about to make the boss doubt, HE SIGNED!!! Now my architect tells me the letter has to be signed by the mayor as well… sigh.