We are beginning to understand the pain and frustration felt by the previous church planting teams in South America…
Compare super-efficient Singapore to Latin America bureaucracy and whatever paperwork..
Our first encounter was with our bank accounts that took about 2-3weeks to settle. Then the internet people made us rather perturbed…. and this time round, it was the Correo – the postal service. This is going to be a long entry again as it’s an account of the tireless journey we took to collect our parcel.
We received a letter asking us to collect a parcel from Singapore this week. Wow! 🙂 How lovely! Thank you guys! Despite all the frustration the collection caused, we are still filled with thanks for your kind thoughts and lovely CNY goodies!
Apparently, there is only one post-office you can collect parcels from in the whole of Quito, you can’t ask them to deliver it anywhere else. It’s in sector Santa Clara, about US$2 taxi fare from our house. (Extremely cheap compared to Singapore yes, but every little bit adds up to our total expenditure yeah?) First time we are going there,we weren’t sure where it was so we took the taxi. And the opening hours are 8-1pm, 2-3pm. ST and I have classes in the morning and early afternoon so we reached the post office around 2.30pm. But we made sure we had all the documents needed before we went, being law-abiding Singaporeans and wanting to minimize any possibility of a hiccup happening.
First sight: A lot of people sitting and standing around in the post office. A kind soul (also a foreigner) told me which counter to go to.. We went to the counter, with our requested 2 copies of ST’s cedula, and paid a US$1 levy for the one parcel that we were receiving. He gave us our queue number – 45.
Took a seat and heard the guy in the room starting calling out numbers… 16…. 17… 18…. Then I heard a lady in front complaining in spanish that she had been waiting for more than an hour.. Gosh! I took a quick count of the people in the room waiting.. about 20+… that makes sense that we are 45! There’s a television for you to watch while waiting.. guess they are used to queues…
We waited for about an hour for our number to be called.. praying hard in the meantime that we would be able to get our parcel that day because we didn’t want to come again! But it was already 4 pm! (Now it figures why they say the closing time is 3pm.. because the queue probably lasts till 5pm…) Meanwhile a group of ladies behind us started making some angry noises…. Apparently, the cut off number for the day was 47. And they were numbers 50+. But no one had made any announcements about the cut off number or that they were to come again the next day! These were some angry women indeed! They started arguing with the person in charge.. and demanded to get their package… guess who won?
Our turn came and we followed the person into the room to ‘see’ our package.. He slit it open to check before us and we saw a glimpse of.. erm… maggi mee? hahaha… mee goreng flavor.. We thought we could collect but nope.. He asked us to go out and wait for our number to be called again. Gotta pay taxes!
Another lady called us about 5 minutes later. She keyed in ST’s details and told us we need to pay US$24 in taxes! Wow.. Hmm.. at the corner of my eye, I noticed that ST’s passport number was wrong… she had keyed 878… instead of S79…. I thought it didn’t matter so we went off to pay at the small bank counter window that they have in the post office. The unfriendly lady just simply told us “Cerrado!” which means “Closed!”. We asked what we should do and she told us to go back to ask the people in the office.
The people in the office told us we needed to go to Banco Internationales.. at Av 10 de Agosto.. near to the post-office. We ran out of the post office, worried that the bank would close before we reached… asked some people for directions and turns out Av 10 de Agosto is 3 streets down the hill…. Ahhh! Walked as fast as we could.. Reached the bank at 4.15. No queue! Happiness..! But nope.. wrong counter. Had to wait for the lady in the cubicle, who thankfully turned out to be quite nice..
Unfortunately, she told us that the post office had keyed in the wrong information and we have to go change it before we can pay! “WHAT?!” I ran out of the bank… after 30 secs of brisk-walking, discovered it could be the passport number! So I ran back and asked if I could have it changed in the bank since I knew what was wrong. But no…. it has to be changed at the post-office. So OFF I RAN again… 3 streets UPHILL this time..
Panting when I reached the post-office, I wanted to sound frustrated but not angry and unreasonable. Told the person they had our information wrong and they should change it, if not we couldn’t pay and we couldn’t get our parcel! One of the guys told me “oh.. this is wrong probably because you are foreigners and you don’t have the Ecuadorian cedula…” I was perturbed by his comment. I told him we DO HAVE a cedula and asked him to return us the form so I could show him the 2 copies of cedula they had asked for and attached to our form. Meanwhile, he kept encouraging me to come again the next day. “Is this not the cedula?” I asked. “Oh, but because you are foreigners, the number is different.” I told him “But this is our passport number and it’s printed and certified on our cedula which is printed here! It’s NOT a different number, it’s TYPED wrongly!” Finally he understood what I meant.. but the lady who keyed in the information overheard and said that she had followed what we had written on the form. I thought, Ok, perhaps it’s our fault because we didn’t write clearly… The man continued to tell me that because the form was already printed and the information already registered, they couldn’t change the info for me. I think I must have shot shocked glares at him – meaning to convey the msg “It’s your system and you can’t change the information?! I want my parcel…” After 5 seconds, they gave me a “we really can’t do anything” look and told us that their internet service was down so they couldn’t make the change for me (even if they wanted to). There was a guy sitting in front of the counter.. with the number 47… and he had been waiting for half an hour for his piece of tax paper. And kept telling me to come back again tomorrow because then, we could pay at the little bank counter without changing our information on the tax form.
I gave up. Walked back down to the bank to meet ST and took the time to calm myself down.
Went back again the next day and thank God the process was quite fast this time round. There were still a few perturbing incidents though..
1) They asked us to photostat a copy of the bank receipt at one of the shops opposite.. No idea why I need to do this since I didn’t need a copy of it.
2) We discovered that they charged us tax for ROPAS (Clothes)… when all we had in the box was dry food! The tax is about 10% more and when we asked the guy, AGAIN, he defended by saying that 1. It doesn’t cost too much more. 2. You’ve already paid so we can’t do anything about it now. You could have changed it earlier. (the words were super small on the tax form.. who would have noticed…? We only realized it after they gave us their written receipt with the item written as ROPAS.)
This is what we paid in total for the parcel.. $4 (Taxi fare first day, to and fro) + $1 (post office levy) + $24 (tax) + $0.70 (bank service charge) + $0.30 (photocopies) + $4 (Taxi fare second day, to and fro) = US$34 which amounts to ~S$50. I believe our dear friends in Singapore paid S$103 for the airfare of the parcel and this not inclusive of the cost of the goodies in the box.
What a costly parcel…
All in all, I think we were really frustrated by the whole troublesome bureaucracy and also the defensive and nonchalant attitude of the officials. Every one who was waiting there had a frustrated look and a “this-is-how-it-is-terrible” look. I begin to understand too, why Ecuadorians have been telling me of their lack of trust in the government officials or public service. Seems many of the regulations are put up just to earn more money, and the officials aren’t really there to serve….
Ecuador… is such a beautiful country with quite a number of resources.. but yet unable to grow strong economically for the lack of good governance and trustworthy civil service… It is so difficult to move on when internally, so many things are tying you down…
One more thing I’ve learnt. I’ve grown to appreciate the efficiency and strength of the Singapore government much more. 🙂