Sometimes a Deposit is Necessary
by Les Johns
(Katy, Texas, USA)
This is not about corruption in Third World countries at an petty official, official or senior government level. The fact is that it is not even about a Third World country. The problem just happened to have occurred in one. It is about the art of persuasion as practiced, if not understood, by a six month old. It was appropriate and it worked.
I was working abroad in a Third World country as small part of my country's aid scheme after independence. While there I got married and my first child, my son, was born there. I was on a three year contract of secondment to the local civil service. What follows, at least at the start, was what could have been presented as a case study of how public service officers should not treat the public.
My son's birth had been properly registered as was required by local laws. Left there, the position was probably that he would have been, and may be he still is, entitled to local citizenship and a local passport. I wanted to ensure that he was entitled to be a citizen of my country and that of my wife. Ours was a mixed marriage only in the religious sense. I was not a catholic whereas my wife was by birth although she had not been a practicing one for many years.
So I went along to my country's embassy/consulate to register my son's birth there as a citizen of my country. As a curiosity have you noticed that diplomatic establishments are open for only short periods so that it is necessary to attend during normal working hours and that they enjoy a good long lunch break? I have never come across one open at the weekend. My office was happy to let me go for what I thought would be a short routine administrative matter. I took my son along simply because he was the reason for my visit.
After asking a few routine questions it was clear that I was getting just general comments with no details about what action I should take. My son was weighing heavily on my arm so about 30 minutes into the visit I sat him on the counter.
In a while his burbling changed to a more purposeful sound. His face suffused with a deeper color than his ruddy cheeks. His concentration was clear to all who had a sight of his face and an ear for the deeper throat sounds at one end and the flatulence at the other. Had he been older he would have asked for the rest room but for now his diapers were perfectly adequate. Soon his appearance returned to normal and his light chattering resumed. At that time anyone with a nose for the situation knew what had happened.
I also noticed a difference. The official behind the counter suddenly started to give brief, precise and relevant statements. He produced and offered forms and pamphlets. I was told that I could complete the appropriate application and either bring it in or post it. It was made clear that I did not need to bring my son again.
My problem with diffuse imprecise diplomatic bureaucracy was over. My son had made the appropriate deposit.
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