Reporting from: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
There are a few things in life that really get to me. One of those is forced inefficiency.
When the tuk-tuk driver doesn’t quite know how to find my hotel here in Phnom Penh, I don’t worry about it. We can work it out as gentleman of our own free will. The free market will work itself out.
But when I’m forced to participate in processes that are made inefficient by their very nature, I get quite a bit more frustrated.
Such is a window into my emotions during my recent visit to the US Consulate here in Phnom Penh. I needed to get a document notarized for an American friend of mine, and the consulate is the only place in Cambodia, short of hiring a law firm which an American agency may or may not reject, to get it done.
I’ve notarized plenty of documents in my business life. As an entrepreneur, I’ve needed numerous things notarized over the years. In most places, it’s a painless process. Practically every American bank will notarize documents for their accountholders for free. Show them a photo ID and you’re in and out in a few minutes.
Not so with the US government. (Are you surprised?)
In an effort to desperately cling on to their feelings of superiority, the American government makes using their consular services a constant reminder that you are a slave under their tutelage. Every move they make is designed to make you feel impressed by their majesty and afraid of their retribution.
It starts when you arrive for your “appointment”. The government is extraordinarily inefficient, so things such as appointments exist only for them to bend you to their will. They have no intention of keeping such an “appointment”, since they will see you whenever they wish. (Well, at least during one of the THREE hours they’re open to you, four days a week.) But sociopaths get a rush out of making other people jump through hoops and dismissing them when they so much as skip a beat.
It’s all about getting you to submit.
After getting green lighted to enter the US Embassy, you stand in a line where a security officer lets people in the door in an indiscriminate fashion. There’s no regard for the line or who arrived first; after all, this is a government that bashes people who pay millions of dollars in taxes for not paying their “fair share” while half of their subjects pay zero.
It’s all about getting you to submit.
Upon further waiting, you get to enter the inner sanctum. This is the security area, where you are reduced to a number, given a badge that insists you have an escort, and go through a metal detector. On the other end, you are forced to part company with all objects in your possession with the exception of a single file folder for documents. (And a passport, which they tell you to leave behind the first time anyway.)
That means no cameras, no cell phones, no miscellaneous scraps of paper, no nothing. It’s ironic that the consulate has surveillance cameras watching you every few feet, but you’re prohibited from having anything that could record any of your interactions inside. It’s an ample reminder of how Big Brother is watching you in his full police state glory… but you’re not good enough to join in.
After all, it’s all about getting you to submit.
Upon being cleared by the guys in the security bunker, you make your way to the REAL inner sanctum. The tyrannical empire’s nerve center in a far away land. Now, you have to muster all of your strength to open a door so thick it could claim it’s got “curves like Beyonce”.
You pass yet another security guard and another metal detector. Once on the other side, you’re now in as deep as you can get.
It’s here where the inefficiency and bureaucratic arrogance of a falling state really happens.
Since having an appointment is just a front to turn away any poor sucker who shows up at the last minute, you take a number and wait. And wait. And wait. They’ll help you when they’re damn good and ready.
Looking around, you see all of the future victims of this tyrannical regime. People who bought into the government’s propaganda mill that The Land of the Free is still… well, The Land of the Free. People who believe life will be better in a country that drones tens of thousands of people to death, just like they contributed to the death of their Cambodian ancestors.
Finally, you become, if for just a moment, the chosen one. Your number is called and the fun really begins. Whatever consular services you came for, you’ll be told that you skipped a step and have to start over. The step usually involves paying. The whores in Phnom Penh’s red light district could learn a real lesson from the US consulate.
It costs $50 to notarize a single document. Need duplicate copies? $100. You’ll be harangued as to why you even brought two copies if you only want one notarized. Those excessive taxes you send to Uncle Sam aren’t enough for some overpaid lackey to stamp a piece of paper.
You have to feed the beast.
Eventually, you bounced from once person to the next, waiting fifteen and twenty minutes at a time in between. You’ll think they forgot about you. And you can’t leave, since they have your slave card (a coincidence, I’m sure).
I think the official work policy for consular services officials is two minutes on, twenty minutes off. Either that or one fifteen-minute break per condescending scoff at a citizen – er, subject.
Finally, after dealing with three or four different people, all of whom take your passport and prance around the back offices of the consulate, far away from the prison visitor-style glass windows that separate the unwashed masses from the elites, someone finally summons you to be helped.
This person, whom you haven’t seen before because they were on their fifteen-minute break after giving the stink eye to another poor schmuck, ensures once again that you paid your ransom fee and holds onto your passport throughout the process of whatever consular service you came for. (Hey, they wouldn’t want the slave to escape while they’re being “serviced”.)
All told, it takes you about fifty times longer to conduct a simple business traction with your government than it would have in the free market. What a bank can do for free in two minutes with a smile on their face, The Land of the Free’s overpaid overseas lackeys can do in just shy of two hours.
If that isn’t an indictment of Big Government, I don’t know what is.
If the US government allowed its employees – most of whom are actually local foreign nationals who sold their soul to work for the Leviathan – to actually get some work done, things could move much more efficiently. But like any big crybaby angry that its power is waning, the US government needs to make you wait for it in order to get its rocks off.
On my way out, I asked one of the Cambodian guards in the security bunker what his last job was. He said, “I worked in a hamburger restaurant”, clearly beaming over his new post. He was a nice guy, perhaps yet uninitiated into the ways of spitting on people. I just smiled, said “thank you”, and exited out the last ridiculously hard-to-open door, thinking about how high the government sets the bar for the talent they believe is worth charging you such a hefty fee for.
Does anyone else think the government could just outsource immigration and consular services to American Express and The UPS Store and save itself a lot of money?