20 September 2010

Russian Bureaucracy Slower Than Slow Boat

And more unpredictable than the stormy seas on which the slow boat sails, I must add.

My household goods, shipped out from the Bay Area in California on 21 May 2010, finally made their way into my new household in Moscow, Russia on 17 September 2010.  The items, for the most part, made it intact.  But, it did take them nearly four months to make the door-to-door journey.  One would think that the cargo boat moving my stuff was about as fast as the catatonic boat marooned in statue form in the middle of Moscow River.

As it happens, the boat was as fast it was advertised to be.  The movers told me to wait up to 8 weeks.  My goods arrived to the appointed port on 7 July.  But, while my items where en route, the Russian government decided to change tariff laws suddenly and unpredictably.

As it happens, and Russians do confirm, Russian bureaucracy is as predictable in its inaction as it is unpredictable in action.  Mass confusion accompanied the enactment of the tariff law on 1 July.  Everyone was caught off guard, including customs officials who received my goods in the first place.  The advice was to "wait and see" whether the bureaucracy would come to its wits.

After 2 months of waiting, it was decided that it would not.  And, it took another 3 weeks of paperwork, negotiations, payments, and hard work by my colleagues to release my goods and deliver them to my place.

I am frequently amazed by the riches of Russia:  The creativity and work ethic of its people, the country's (now aging) industrial base, and the land's vast natural resources.  Clearly, a question has been why, with so much potential, Russia is not bigger economically than it is, and why are its people not richer than they are.  If the bureaucratic snafus that I witnessed are indicative, we may just have an insight into what gnaws away at Russia's prospects.

Slower than a slow boat, more unpredictable than stormy seas ...


Update:  Here is a Russian anecdote about their bureaucrats; unfortunately, there is too much truth in this anecdote to qualify it as a joke.
Frustrated, a Russian goes to his local bureaucrat's office for the third day in a row after being told the first two days to "come back tomorrow."  The bureaucrat, surprised by the Russian's return, exclaims:  Why don't you listen?  I keep telling you to come back tomorrow, but you keep coming back today.


  1. It actually started long before July's reforms.
    A complete reorganization of the Russian post was announced in the end of 2009. Russian post managers are rumoured to have closed all of the Moscow post sorting centers, relocating everything to Podolsk in the Moscow region. If this true, the international post is first brought to Moscow, the customs terminal on Varshavskoe shosse 32, then transferred to Podolsk, where they determine to which post office it should be delivered, and then finally brought to your local post office where you can pick it up. But in between about 30% of parcels "get lost", and can be released free only by writing official complaints, then waiting two months, then writing again, and so on..
    To illustrate these changes in the post's efficiency: before December 2009 my printed copy of The Economist arrived with a delay of only 5 days - now it is delivered in two weeks at best, and for some copies I waited for a couple of months.
    Sometimes I truly envy your optimism for things happenning here.

    Tanya (tatianar@)

  2. Last week I tried to buy some stamps at the Post Office on Tverskaya street (Kremlin end). What a palaver! Loads of women standing around gassing to each other, and poor Russians standing in desultory queues, hopng to get attention about their packages or whatever.

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