Who cares where it is made? - Crown Copyright 2018

No, no, not that sort of Minister, some form of Baptist or Pentecostalist – Ghana has more than its fair share of them – rather the government kind. When the Minister responsible for such things as passports made a visit to the passport issuing office a miracle did occur. Documents which were not ready for issuance became, immediately, ready for issuance!

Is that not a surprise to amaze all?

Well, of course, no, it isn’t all that much of a surprise. Not to those of us who have suffered the tender mercies of bureaucracies in other parts of the world it isn’t, no. My own basic experience was in Russia where one never went into any office without handfuls of cash. I’ve also found that the most difficult bureaucracy is the American one for not only do they have many rules they actually expect people to obey them all. Without the greasing of cash doucers either. A truly odd mixture of desires.

Ghanans (Ghanaians?) will object strongly to this, as they really don’t like being compared to Nigerians but the Nigerian word, and I would guess in use regionally as well, for all of this is “dash.”

This is what explains the miracle:

Two individuals chasing their passports since 2017 have now gained access to their travel documents within minutes thanks to the intervention of Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey.

Charity Tinka and Justice Adjei applied for their passports in November and December last year, respectively. They were supposed to receive their passports at least two weeks after putting in their applications.

Two weeks turned into months without issuance of the passports. According to the two, whenever they came to the Passport Office, they were told it was not ready.

However, when the Foreign Minister paid an unannounced visit to the Passport Office in Accra, Tinka and Adjei’s documents were made available and issued immediately.

The basic way this sort of thing works – and of course nothing like this was happening at all, this is a description from my Russian experience, absolutely – is that those running a bureaucratic office charge extra sums for the performance of their duties. Sometimes this is open and obvious. That makes it unfair but at least efficient – one knows that there are those official fees and another, say, $100, and everything is done expeditiously. It’s when it’s not open and obvious that it’s more of a problem.

For there is no official price list for the bribes that must be paid. So, in order to generate them the bureaucrats start to throw random delays into the system. This is a form of price discrimination, of market segmentation. Those who throw a wobbly, insist that all know who they are, can and will be charged a decent sum for their documents. Those who don’t, those who meekly trudge back again and again aren’t turkeys with much worth plucking. Oh, some feathers will be removed but it’ll be much more in time in the pursuit of the bribe than it will be actual income to the bribee.

All very and entirely inefficient. If there is going to be dash then at least make it obvious how much it is, who it needs to be paid to, then documents can be issued and all go on their way.

What’s that? I’m being cynical? Sure I am. And it’s also how, say, US law works. It’s illegal to bribe foreign officials. It’s legal to pay facilitation fees to gain a document in a timely manner. The difference is that if you would have got the document anyway then you can pay to have it quickly. But you cannot pay to have it at all. This is the distinction that Walmart faced/faces in that Mexican bribery case. If they were paying just to get righteous licences on time then that’s fine. If they were paying to get them at all then off to jail with all of them.

And what do we think is happening here?

During her interactions with potential passport applicants, Ms Botchway learnt at first hand that some applicants had to queue as early as 1 a.m. in order to be part of the first 100 people whose applications are processed for the day.

One applicant, Kofi Nyamekye, who spoke to the Daily Graphic, recounted how he had to queue as early as 1 a.m. to become the 36th person in the queue after he had paid GH¢50 to an agent.

He related that by the time the Passport Office opened for its daily operations, he had jumped from being the 36th person in the queue to being the 98th.

Asked how that could happen, he said people came late and paid more and were subsequently smuggled into the queue.

I am an aficionado of scams and schemes. And this is a classic one. There is no particular reason the office can only process 100 applications a day. But by limiting their ability to just that many the office can create a value in the document being processed that day. Which is why the promise and the limit exist – to make those places in the queue valuable. And most assuredly those “smuggling” people into the queue are passing some of that dash into the office.

We also know that the Minister isn’t involved. For if she were then the Miracle wouldn’t have happened, would it? Which is one way that Ghana is indeed different from Nigeria, and in a good way. We might also make the crack that Ghana’s dictator was a Flight Lieutenant, not a General, showing a welcome bias towards the Air Force there.

And to the point which really does need to be made to the fools out here. There are all too many insisting that what ails places in Africa and other parts of the world is an insufficiency of government, of bureaucracy. Given the bureaucracy they’ve got this is not so. Yes, obviously, it does have to be the government and the civil service issuing the passports but given this story, this experience, who wants local to the area government to be doing anything other than what is absolutely, no doubt about it, completely and totally necessary?

It is, after all, possible to have an excess of bad, incompetent, venal and corrupt governance. Something which many of the places in the world which are poorer than they should be currently enjoy. Far from their needing more government intervention into the economy they’d do better with a red in tooth and claw free market solution. The one where that venal and corrupt governance is kept as far away from anything important as possible.