Even the government hates government

Whether it’s fixing potholes or keeping our streets safe, pumping our oil safely or distributing its rents fairly, there is simply very little our government gets right. Like...

Whether it’s fixing potholes or keeping our streets safe, pumping our oil safely or distributing its rents fairly, there is simply very little our government gets right. Like a reverse Midas, the government turns anything it touches into Lago de Valencia-style sewage.

Just another tired wingnut rant? Check this news item out: a decree published Thursday exempts public sector entities from the vast bulk of the import/export paperwork required of everyone else. Turns out not even the government can put up with the bureaucratic crap it deals out.

This decision is thick with irony. Doing business in Venezuela is practically impossible without importing something. Whether it’s technology, raw materials, or parts for the truck distributing your goods, you always run into the need to bring something from another country.

Imports are – pardon the pun – important. So enmeshed are imports into our national psyche that one of the challenges of transforming Venezuela into an export dynamo – one that exports other things beside oil – is the problem that our ports were built for imports, not for exports.

Yet thanks to the many roadblocks on the free flow of goods across borders, importing something into Venezuela has become a nightmare. Never mind that the infrastructure is in shambles – the biggest problem is the paperwork. The hoops you need to jump to get the hard currency to import is just the tip of the iceberg.

Want to import food? Well, you need an import license from the Ministry of Food. (Yes, there is a Ministry of Food.) To obtain it, you need to come armed with an astronomical list of papers and stamps, taxes and forms, all duly notarized and organized.

But the fun doesn’t stop there.

You also have to show a Certificate of Insufficiency, sometimes also called a Certificate of Non Production. To get this, you need to declare that the thing you need can’t be produced locally.

It’s kind of like proving something doesn’t exist.

The list of requirements to do this is completely orwellian. Make sure you read the part about where in each folder each piece of paper has to go. The whole process is so convoluted, you need an actual roadmap.

The horror stories spawning from this maze include armies of compliance staff and endless delays. There is even a market for people specialized in this stuff! Needless to say, the system is a hotbed of inefficiency and corruption.

Nobody likes to deal with this. So we can’t really blame the government for saying that public entities wishing to import don’t have to present all these permits. With the swoop of Hugo Chávez’s pen, all the usual requirements for importing are waived – for the public sector only.

As if Venezuela’s private sector wasn’t discriminated against enough, now they’ll have to compete against public imports that aren’t just subsidized, but magically paperwork-free to boot. Chávez needs to build a lot of houses if he has any chance of getting re-elected, but his own policies make that difficult. So he gives himself a pass, and if it puts private businesses at a disadvantage relative to the government, better even.

It’s good to be da boss, ¿no?

The government’s move amounts to an admission of failure. They may not say so publicly, but they have come to the realization many of us came to a long time: that the biggest impediment to Venezuela’s economic growth … is the government.

I didn’t always think this way. Years of indoctrination about the wisdom of the benevolent planner and the income inequalities caused by the free market left me sure there was a proper role for the State.

And yet whenever I came in contact with a Consulate, or had to stand in line for hours to get a paper stamped by an ill-mannered bureaucrat, or was asked for a kickback by a cop, the tea-partier that lives in my sub-conscious would remind me of Thoreau’s inmortal utterance about government being best when it governs least.

I mean, theories about the public provision of goods and services are fine for Sweden. But can we point to anything the Venezuelan government does well?

Sadly, we can’t. The government’s move, demanding it get out of its own way, confirms it. The crumbling chavista state is making all of us hate government.