Every cloud has a silver lining and that is very true of the pandemic that we all endured for two years from the beginning of 2020. That event produced social knock-on effects that will likely remain with us forever. I’m referring to the dreaded bureaucracy or red tape that most of us have to suffer through at one time or another. Because of the pandemic, most governmental institutions have by necessity needed to completely revamp their systems when your physical presence wasn’t possible because of Covid restrictions.
Naturally, I can only speak from my experience in Argentina where the lockdown was severe and verged on martial law. I’m sure digitally signed documents, invariably PDFs, have been around for some time, but now they are par for the course in a country where red tape abounds. Most of these paper-chasing exercises require your human presence at some stage during the procedure, but because much of the form filling is now done online, dragging your reluctant physical self to some anonymous government building is either no longer necessary or is simply reserved for the very last step in order to ensure that you are who you say you are. I only mention that last stage because Argentina is obsessed with identity and absolutely nothing can be achieved without a national identity card.
As an example, I’m in the process of changing my motorcycle and the legal procedure for my new acquisition has improved dramatically since I last suffered through it nearly ten years ago. Back then it was a case of gathering every document related to the vehicle, including any outstanding fines, taxes, and other related matters, and hauling yourself before the local registry where the vehicle was originally registered, where officious clerks would wield rubber stamps whilst extracting large amounts of money from you. Some ancillary charges could only be paid at a nominated bank which was always several miles away, photocopies needed to be made in triplicate, and the forms needed to be filled in by hand at that registry. The entire procedure could often take three to four hours and often very much longer on a busy day in an overcrowded waiting room in the middle of summer with no air conditioning. The same could be said for almost any other looney-toons paperchase in those days and to describe it as dehumanising would be an understatement.
But things have changed thankfully and now all the documents can be pre-loaded online with new vehicle registration papers digitally signed and sent to the new owner by email. Naturally, there are security procedures to follow, such as codes sent by SMS, etc, to confirm your identity, but this new system is a welcome change from the chaotic and frankly tedious system of old. The final lap has to be conducted in person which I will be doing tomorrow, following which I should receive certain physical documents followed by confirmation emails and I don’t expect the process to last more than an hour. In fact, I went through a similar process when my license plate was stolen last month (for the second time), and whilst the final visit was in person, most of the donkey work was carried out online. I might also add that being British in a foreign land does help somewhat and I often tell the clerks that I speak very little Spanish which lightens the bureaucratic atmosphere somewhat and I get their full attention.
These improvements, in Argentina at least, are pretty much across the board with many transactions not even requiring your presence, with digitally signed sworn statements being accepted in all government institutions. It has to be said, however, that no final user costs have been reduced (in fact they have increased dramatically), there are more civil servants than ever before and the state knows more about you than it ever did, but that’s a subject for another day.