When Armenia’s leaders talk about implementing reforms, I and other common citizens naturally want to see tangible results. We want to feel their impact on our daily lives.
The government started to implement reforms in the police force a long time ago but, what has actually changed? More to the point, how can I assess the results of these so-called reforms?
On June 6, I was an eye witness to the actions of an agency supposedly so “reformed”.
I am referring to the #N1 Motor Vehicles Department up in Kanaker – the place where one goes to apply for a driver’s license and where the police register automobiles.
When the place opened up that particular morning, queues immediately began to form. Inside, the place is a labyrinth of offices and windows. There is no one directing the flow of people and the sullen faces of the staff discourages all but the most plucky to ask questions.
It’s as if these minor civil servants are there to collect your money and that’s that.
“Hey, we’re paying all this money into the state budget. You’d think they could at least make the place a bit more inviting,” muttered someone waiting in front of me. Evidently, the man was getting a bit hot under the collar after being confronted by this off-putting bureaucratic rigmarole.
The waiting lines are relative, however, and not meant for everyone. If you know someone on the inside and grease someone’s palm, you’re escorted straight inside. The rest of us peons have to bide our time in a stifling hallway.
But that’s their plan and it’s an ingenious, if primitive, one. Make the experience so unbearable that citizens are forced to search for an easier alternative; even giving a bribe or two.
I was still waiting in line when the office staff would soon leave for their lunch break. I had been waiting since 9am.
“Excuse me, but how much longer will I have to wait? I have to get back to work,” I asked an office staffer. Lunch time at the Motor Vehicles office is from 1-2pm.
He slowly looked up from the desk and grumbled, “How should I know? You’ll be done when your papers come back.”
An old man decked out in some type of police uniform then appeared and ordered everyone outside. “It’s break time. Everybody out,” he yelled.
I left with the others. Once outside, I noticed a commotion off to one side of the building.
A few of the cleaning attendants were accepting applications through the window. They had access to the ledgers and were taking advantage of the situation.
Evidently, some of the applicants were fed up to the point that they slipped them some money – anything to avoid another few hours of waiting.
I must have lost my cool as well and began complaining; to no one in particular.
This attracted the attention of my fellow applicants who gathered round.
They mouthed the traditional explanations – ‘This is no normal country’, ‘Things will never change’, blah, blah. It’s the standard rhetoric you hear whenever two Armenians met and start analyzing the plight of the country.
“It’s not the country at fault, but us,” I replied.
“But what can we do? How can we be the problem?” one in the crowd responded.
At that point, I noticed that our animated debate had attracted the attention of the staff as well.
One approached and handed me my papers. “The deputy director wants to see you,” he said.
I asked why, but the guy shook his head, “Don’t know.”
When I got to the deputy director’s office on the second floor, the door was open. A few men were seated inside.
“Why are you making such a fuss?” he asked me point blank.
“Your cleaning guys downstairs are taking applications through the window during the break. That’s some business they got,” I retorted.
“Impossible,” said the deputy director.
“Go down and take a look for yourself,” I answered.
The official then asked who I was referring to and snuck a sneaking glance to those seated.
I told the guy to check it out for himself and left.
Disgusted, I walked towards my car. I didn’t look forward to coming back to this place for my auto registration.
Today, during a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan again raised the issue about reforming the system. Good luck!
He should have video cameras installed at the Motor Vehicles office to see how his civil servants are working - if you can call it that.
The whole application process shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. People shouldn’t have to deal with everyone from the deputy director down to the guy sweeping the floor.
There should be one window for all applicants and not a confusing maze.
I have a word of advice for our government members.
Just once, inconspicuously and without a phalange of bodyguards, visit the Kanaker Motor Vehicles office.
Mingle with the crowds waiting in line and listen.
Only then will you know what the average Joe thinks about all this talk of reforms.