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Setting Up Systems

Posted on the 05 June 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
Just a quick, somewhat humorous, post on some things that need to be fixed in Egypt. I know I am a khawaga (foreigner) but I am also half African and married to an African, so I think my comments are fair, and really, my goal is to be helpful. 
Okay, while Egypt is busy democratizing, they should consider improving accountability, increasing transparency, and reducing bureaucracy. A good dose of the "buck stops here," would do wonders for this country. Mind you, I have lived in Kenya, which has caused me to grease some palms to get some do or die paperwork, like a birth certificate. I can say, however, that with the correct bribe, things happen fast.  And, I grew up in New Mexico, which has its own case of the "mananas" and some corruption, to boot. But seriously, in order to democratize Egypt, people need to make sure things work, and work on time!
Non-scientific sample, but I would LOVE IT if readers could contribute their own Egyptian examples.
First example: Okay, the university I work at runs okay, I guess. It is supposedly American, but nowhere close to that in inefficiency. Well, I gave the university my daughter's tuition invoice on May 2, 2011 or thereabouts, about one day after I got it. Her tuition is a benefit of my expatriate pay package. Today is June 5th. So one month, many emails, and a few visits to payroll later, they finally paid my daughter's tuition. Meanwhile, all the other cute kids are going to school in a lovely turqouise uniform, while she wears street clothes. I will buy her uniform tomorrow.
When I arrived, my boss told me that the university "specializes in needless bureaucracy." Look, bureaucracy is not all bad, as long as it works. Hey, I am a former bureaucrat myself, and a fan of Weber. It has its upsides, but the trick is to reduce the red tape, and make the systems function smoothly.
Second example: I wrote an opinion piece for a well respected Egyptian daily. Very good shop, they do great work. But apparently, they could use a little bureaucracy. I wrote the op-ed two months ago. It was published April 4th. Meanwhile, it is now June 5th, and I have not been paid. I went to Garden City today to try to pick up my check, which I was told by the editor should be ready. One hour was spent haggling in Arabic with the guy at the front desk. I haggled, my student got on the phone and haggled, my taxi driver haggled. One hot, sweaty and smoky hour later, I had no check. I finally left, because, amazingly, I have work to do, and I actually try to meet my deadlines. Imagine that!
I spoke to my student and asked him if the Opinion Editor was embarrassed? He said no, because in Egypt, people always try to say that whatever happens is not their fault, it is someone else's fault. Well, gee folks, a little more accountability and transparency, and  Mubarak would not have been able to steal 70 billion dollars. And FYI, I did not make up that figure. See article on Mubarak's riches. Needless to say, if things are this bad in the two private sector examples I have given, I do not even want to deal with the public sector here.
So in the first case, we have too much red tape. In the second case, there is no red tape, but there is also no tape, as it were. The bottom line is that creating a sense of accountability with management systems that function efficiently is a good area for capacity building by well meaning NGOs and development organizations such as USAID and DFID.

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