Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The bureaucracy of a purchase

I wanted to extend my time at the university by an extra week because I have an excellent teacher, I enjoy my classmates, and I wanted to get as much as possible out of my remaining time in Belarus. With some effort over a few days, I got agreement from the university to extend my contract on a pro-rata basis. A few days later I finally received my invoice in triplicate, just hours before I had to leave for Gomel to renew my residency permit. They wanted US$47.

I took the invoices and a hundred-dollar bill down to the university’s cashier and waited in line. When I finally reached the window, they pointed out to me that my invoice instructed me to go to a certain bank across town. I went to Gomel instead.

Saturday morning I got up early after returning from Gomel with my snazzy new forty-year residency permit. I went straight to the bank to pay for my extra week of studies, and then I came straight back home. Nothing happened at the bank because that branch doesn’t offer weekend service.

Undaunted, I returned to the bank after class on Monday, yesterday. Once again I presented my triplicate invoice, residency permit and hundred-dollar bill. The cashier scrutinized the money and decided it looked real. Then she scrutinized my invoices and my residency permit. Repeatedly. Then she told me that my passport number didn’t match. I didn’t figure out the problem right away and I offered her my American passport. This did not impress her either. I finally realized that she wanted to confirm the number on my residency permit, which I’d just finished replacing. I explained the reason for her confusion and she explained that I’d have to go get new invoices and bring them back to her.

Wait a minute, I objected. I’m standing here with an invoice and money to pay it. Surely my registration number cannot enhance this purchase in any way. The same bank would convert my US dollars to Belarus rubles with no documentation whatsoever. I have no idea why documentation is so important when instead they get to keep the money and don’t have to give me anything in return. My arguments notwithstanding, they have their rules and they’re sticking to them. Go home!

I decided to drop out of the university and stop wasting time trying to spend money. Friends offered to try to keep me up to speed on a week’s worth of studies anyway. But the long arm of the university administration reached me in spite of my intentions. There’s a presidential mandate for all state businesses to increase revenue, and by golly these guys want to get those forty-seven dollars from me. I insisted that I won’t pay. They responded by offering that I could pay in Belarus rubles at the university cashier. Mollified by this compromise, I have paid. I have done my part in supporting the presidential revenue-enhancement mandate, and everybody else has done their own parts in reminding the foreigner that Belarus has some of the finest bureaucrats in the world. Caveat emptor!

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