Red Tape Addiction
Bureaucracy was so bad in Brazil that a President decided
to create a Bureaucracy Ministry to try to tame the bureaucratic monster.
It’s been more than ten years since the demise of the debureaucratization
department and matters seem worse than ever.
Elma Lia Nascimento
Bureaucracy was so bad in Brazil that a President decided
to create a Bureaucracy Ministry to try to tame the bureaucratic monster.
It’s been more than ten years since the demise of the debureaucratization
department and matters seem worse than ever.
Elma Lia Nascimento
Do you need a butcher? The Brazilian government has one on its staff.
How about a hairdresser, a masseuse or masseur, a baggage handler, a metal
worker, a Venetian blind technician, or a decorator? You will find all
these workers and dozens more occupying roles as public servants for the
federal government. The Agriculture Ministry, for example, has the luxury
of employing five full-time governesses. By the government’s own admission,
at least 44,000 of these workers could be sent home without harming the
administration of the country and with substantial payroll reductions.
Since times immemorial and inspired by its Portuguese discoverers and
settlers, Brazil has been a bureaucrat’s paradise. “Bureaucracy resists,”
said President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recently when complaining about
some bureaucrats who he said were preventing the implementation of constitutional
reforms. “When we decide, as we did, to transfer responsibilities
and resources, certainly Brasília’s bureaucracy loses power. The
bureaucrat becomes very important when he doesn’t sign a document.”
Brazil is so aware of its bureaucracy addiction that General-President
João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, who governed from 1979 to
1985, created a much-ridiculed Ministry of Debureaucratization to try to
solve the problem. Eleven years after the demise of the National Program
on Debureaucratization, Brazil is more awash than ever in red tape.
In São Paulo alone, a city with 11 million people, an average
of 127,000 signatures are notarized every day at the city’s 85 notary publics
so documents will have legal value. In some instances, bureaucracy has
become even worse than it was before the creation of the debureaucratization
ministry. Since the end of last year, for example, the signature of someone
selling a car in the city of São Paulo will be accepted only if
the notarization is made with the interested party signing the document
in front of the notary public.
What’s happened? “Since the impeachment of President Fernando Collor
de Mello, the country was engulfed by the winds of moralization, and the
number of required papers has increased,” says João Geraldo
Piquet, former executive secretary for the debureaucratization program,
in an interview with the daily newspaper O Estado de São Paulo.
“The efforts to simplify matters have been completely abandoned,”
São Paulo’s Detran (Departamento de Trânsito — Traffic
Department) had no choice but to get tougher, said Director Enos Beolchi
Júnior. An investigation conducted by the organization in December
1994 showed that 82 percent of the 1.8 million cases being considered had
at least one falsified or irregular document.
In June of this year, 29 Detran workers were fired, accused of participating
in a corruption scheme that made life much easier for some middlemen and
those citizens willing to contribute a cervejinha (a little beer),
a synonym for grease. Beolchi, however, was complaining that such firings
were very harmful for Detran since that department is already in need of
many more hands. “And besides,” he says, “our obsolete computer
system goes on the fritz several times a day, compounding our problems.”
Even though processes of granting drivers licenses shouldn’t take more
than three to five days, these documents are not ready in less than three
to four weeks.
The bureaucratic maze has created a vast and lucrative network of middlemen
called despachantes, whose sole purpose is to facilitate obtaining
these documents. In the state of São Paulo there are 10,500 despachante
offices, with nearly half, 4680, located in the capital city. Needless
to say, the whole system marches much faster when oiled with kickbacks
Last year, promoter Ruth Escobar complained that she had to appeal to
“friends in power,” including President Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
and spend $60,000 on despachantes in order to get scenery released
from Customs and start her Festival Internacional de Artes Cênicas
(International Festival of Scenic Arts) on time. Today there are specialized
despachantes who deal with cultural events and charge no less than
$2,000 for their work.
The American consulate in São Paulo has considered cutting some
of its cultural offerings, such are the difficulties of importing foreign
art. It’s common that the work of clearing Customs be given to a despachante.
But even this involves bureaucracy, as the Receita Federal (Federal
Revenue Service) asks that a power of attorney with eight copies be given
to the despachante and that the diplomat signing the power of attorney
present a certified copy of his own ID card.
At the end of last year, five sculptures by French artist Auguste Rodin
had to wait 45 days at Cumbica, São Paulo’s international airport,
being released only after the direct intervention of the chief inspector
of the Federal Revenue Service in São Paulo, Flávio del Comuni,
who was contacted by the French consulate there.
Any painting, sculpture, or film that enters Brazil, even when destined
for an exposition or fair, is treated like any other merchandise: The responsible
party has to pay what is called a “caução bancária”
(banking bond), which is equal to the amount — the II (Imposto de Importação
— Import Tax) and the IPI (Imposto sobre Produtos Industrializados —
Tax on Industrialized Products) — that would be paid if the work of art
were bought. The money is returned by Caixa Econômica (Federal Savings
Bank) after the exhibition, but it can amount to thousands of dollars for
valuable pieces, and this practice may hurt exhibit promoters financially.
BORN TO CARRY PAPERS
Reconhecimento de firma (signature notarization) and autenticação
de documentos (document certification) are an integral part of every Brazilian’s
daily life. People maintain cards of signatures similar to the ones used
by Banks in the U.S. sometimes in several Cartórios. To have his
signature in a Cartório, the person has to pay a fee and present
his ID and CIC, the Federal Revenue Service card. From getting a library
card to obtaining a death certificate, very few things can be done without
the necessary stamps from the always-crowded Cartórios and Tabelionatos
which dispense these services.
Cartórios, which have license to make money and are a synonym
of privilege, are a concession from the state to people who are cozy with
those in power. Once granted, the benefit becomes a hereditary feud as
it is transferred from generation to generation. The new 1988 Constitution
changed this, but only on paper, as new requirements that owners of the
establishments be accepted through competitive examination have yet to
be implemented. Bureaucracy is so ingrained in the public psyche that even
laws created a decade ago, like the one that ended the obligation of certifying
copies of documents, have been ignored.
Brazilians live submerged in a sea of paper, starting with the birth
certificate which is procured from a Cartório or Tabelião,
a notary public with much more power than those in the U.S.. Curiously,
the mother has 15 days to request the paper without any penalty, while
the father has 60 days. To get a Certidão de Nascimento, the father
or mother — after buying a special form (document of deposit) at any stationery
shop, filling it out, and going to a designated bank to pay the necessary
fee — must present a marriage license (without which the father’s name
cannot be given to the child unless the father himself goes to the Cartório),
a hospital declaration confirming the birth, and the mother’s ID. Those
who are unemployed or who make $100 a month or less don’t have to pay for
the birth certificate.
Studying at a public school requires less paperwork and effort than
most other activities involving bureaucracy. At least in Rio, all the parents
have to do is to go to the school closest to their home, bringing proof
of residence (a water or electricity bill will do), a birth certificate,
and a 1.2″ x 1.6″ photo of the child..
To get a Carteira de Identidade (Identity Card), an indispensable official
document, the problem is not the price, but the work involved. First, a
form must be bought in any stationery shop, and two 1.2″ x 1.6″
photos taken by any photographer. The applicant must also bring a certified
copy or an original Birth Certificate or Marriage License. There is no
fee to get the document, but this apparent simplicity can be deceiving.
The most formidable barrier are the lines to deliver the papers at the
Secretaria de Segurança Pública (Department of Public Security).
And the document is sent home by mail no sooner than one month after the
application is received.
To get a job, the applicant needs lung X-rays, a battery of police certificates
that prove his honesty, and a Carteira Profissional (Professional Card)
from the federal Departamento do Trabalho (Work Department). To get this
latter document, applicants, including minors, must present an ID, proof
of residence, and a 1.2″ x 1.6″ photo. Those who worked previously
without registering the job on their work card must go to a branch of the
Caixa Econômica Federal (Federal Savings Bank) to fill out a questionnaire
about their former employer before being allowed to file for a Carteira
This official working permit is a booklet in which the employer writes
the employee’s date of admission, vacations, contributions paid, and even
salary raises. All workers when they start paying their dues to the INSS
(Instituto Nacional de Seguridade Social — Social Security National Institute)
are rewarded with a new document: the PIS (Programa de Integração
Social — Social Integration Program).
As in the U.S., a Driver’s License (Carteira de Motorista or Carteira
de Habilitação) is required to drive a vehicle. The minimum
age to get this document is 18. Obtaining a Driver’s License can be a little
more complicated than getting other documents since it involves an eye
examination and a psychological test, as well as a written test and a driving
test. At least in the big cities, the practice of buying a ready license,
saving the applicant the trouble of going through any tests, seems to have
all but disappeared.
Voting is mandatory in Brazil, and naturally all citizens must add to
their vast arsenal of documents a Título de Eleitor (Voter Card).
Those who don’t vote may have to pay a fine or lose some of their salary.
The vote is such a sacred duty that Brazilians living overseas must go
to a consulate when there is an election in Brazil to “justify”
their absence and obtain the necessary papers to prove they didn’t forget
their obligation. During national elections, Brazilians overseas are allowed
to vote at the consulates.
For tax purposes, every Brazilian citizen is supposed to have a CPF
(Cadastro de Pessoa Física — Natural Person’s Record) number, which
is provided on a narrow card called CIC (Cartão de Identificação
do Contribuinte — Taxpayer’s Identity Card). The CPF is asked routinely
for many commercial transactions.
For men, there is another required document that they will be asked
for throughout their entire lives. It is the Certificado de Alistamento
Militar (Military Draft Certificate), a paper that proves the individual
dedicated one year to the Army or was duly exempted from doing so.
The dead are not spared the bureaucracy. An Atestado de Óbito
(Death Certificate) costs only $1.98, but the document won’t be issued
without a doctor’s declaration and his signature duly certified. For babies
that die soon after birth, the law requires a Birth Certificate followed
by a Death Certificate. When there is nobody to prove the death, there
are more costs and papers involved, including a process of death justification
and a fee to pay for the magistrates’ association, called mútua
dos magistrados. Everyone who needs a birth certificate, a marriage
license, or who buys real estate pays from $1 to $3 to this private association.
It can be absurd, but it is legal.
If Brazilians have so many hurdles to clear to exercise their citizenry,
those trying to conduct business must have a special mettle, especially
if they want to start their own company. Luís Carlos Ewald, a professor
of Economics at PUC-Rio (Pontifícia Universidade Católica
— Pontifical Catholic University, wrote recently in Rio’s daily Jornal
do Brasil: “How many opportunities of generating new jobs were
lost due to the discouragement of heroic entrepreneurs who gave up due
to the unnecessary documents, negative or positive certificates, marriage
and death certificates, medical and dental certificates, police clearance,
vaccinations, pedigrees, CGCs (Cadastro Geral de Contribuintes — Taxpayers’
General Register), IPTUs (Imposto Predial e Territorial Urbano — Urban
Building and Land Tax), alvarás (licenses), permits, authorizations,
collateral signatures, cadasters, criminal records, X-rays, insurance,
paternity DNA, certified signatures, certificate of occupancy, proof of
residence, IPVA (Imposto sobre Propriedade de Veículos Automotores
— Tax on Ownership of Automotive Vehicles), blood group, Rh factor, and
so many more, all with certified photocopies.”
To start a sole ownership company, the individual faces a via Dolorosa
of different places and assorted lines. He has to present a $35 Registro
de Declaração de Firma (Business Declaration Record) obtained
at the Junta Comercial (Board of Trade), a Fire Department Approval Certificate
($37), and a $208 Alvará de Localização (Localization
License) issued by City Hall. For a business corporation, these documents
must be accompanied by a certificate showing that the specific business
name is not in use, as well as a Registro do Contrato Social (Certificate
of Incorporation Registration).
In 1995 alone, IOB, a publication of business tax information,
published 3,800 pages related to changes made during the year in the rules
for payment of taxes to the Union, the state, and the municipalities. This
amounts to 15 changes per day! And while in the U.S. or Europe a person
is able to start a business in as little as two days, in Brazil this process
takes at least 40 days. Up to 96% of small businesses are not able to deal
with the company’s accounting without hiring an accountant. And business
people spend 26% of their time dealing with official bureaucracy, according
to a study conducted by CNI (Confederação Nacional da Indústria
— National Confederation of the Industry).
According to Sebrae (Serviço Brasileiro de Apoio à Micro
e Pequena Empresa — Brazilian Service for Helping Micro and Small Businesses),
anyone willing to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops would require
up to six months to be able to open a company. A little grease, however,
can dramatically reduce this wait to a couple of days. Some people, like
photographer Tércio Luz have learned this the hard way. He told
O Estado de São Paulo about his marathon effort to open a
studio. Accountants from the Junta Comercial do Estado de São Paulo
offered to get him all the documentation in two days for an extra $600
under the table. He decided to go by the rules. Three months later, with
a place already rented, he was still waiting to get his permit. For him,
to do things the honest way became very expensive.
In some cases, the Brazilian dream of becoming an international business
partner is just that, a dream. The bureaucratic traps are like land mines
ready to explode. Even though Brazilians are in need of electrical appliances,
for example, they cannot be imported unless the product comes with a manual
in Portuguese (when Spanish would do just fine) and the distributor has
enough original spare parts for repair, even when parts from other manufacturers
could be used without any problem.
The situation can reach Kafkaesque heights. To import antidepressant
medication that contains lithium, for example, two licenses are required:
one from the Health Ministry and another from the CNEN (Comissão
Nacional de Energia Nuclear — Nuclear Energy National Commission). The
latter agency is involved because Lithium is a substance used in thermonuclear
weapons. It doesn’t matter that the product is also used in alloys, ceramics,
and medicinal drugs. Such barriers are often imposed under pressure of
national business lobbying groups, making a product unavailable for six
months or more or prompting the would-be importer to give up the idea of
getting the item.
With globalization, the Brazilian bureaucracy has become a turnoff for
foreign companies looking to invest in the country. A just-released World
Bank’s comparative study between Chile, Peru and Brazil shows that in Chile
a private firm’s worker spends 0.5% of his time dealing with governmental
bureaucracy, in Peru 4%, and in Brazil 5%.
According to Geoffrey Shepherd, a World Bank economist who participated
in São Paulo in a seminar on the costs of doing business in Brazil,
the “complex and discretionary” nature of the Brazilian bureaucracy
forces private companies to have to constantly negotiate with the government.
His conclusion: “This encourages corruption.” Shepherd believes
that Brazil loses an investor every time trade conditions are the same
in competing foreign countries, as strong regulation scares off prospective
Foreign companies can operate in the country only after making a special
request to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and securing permission
by presidential decree. Several sectors still need clearance from different
departments. Oil products, for example, are controlled by the DNC (Departamento
Nacional de Combustíveis — National Fuel Department); for wheat
there is the CRTM, the Department of Wheat. Arms and ammunition are linked
directly to the Ministry of the Army.
THE PAPER CHASE
Active and retired bureaucrats have been shamelessly sucking the system.
At the end of 1995, weekly newsmagazine Veja revealed that a still-open
audit had revealed 1,851 public servants with salaries higher than the
$8,500 paid President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and ten people making between
$24,000 to $33,000 a month. There was also the story of Aloysio Lopes Pontes,
a 77-year-old retired judge whose monthly paycheck through a series of
legal maneuvers amounted to more than $162,000. It would take a worker
earning minimum wage 150 years to be paid this kind of money. Pontes didn’t
get all the money (he still took home $24,000) only because the government
has imposed limits on what can be paid.
In October, after several attacks on bureaucracy and apparently tired
of waiting for a constitutional reform that would eliminate various bureaucratic
procedures, President Fernando Cardoso decided to take the problem in his
own hands, issuing an executive order, the MP (Medida Provisória
— Provisional Measure) 1524. The resolution eliminates a total of 72,930
federal jobs, including 27,650 that are already vacant. Firings, closing
of departments, and cuts of posts should add to 251,500 positions eliminated
in federal facilities and state enterprises, or 18.8% of the whole federal
work force of 1,340,000 workers. The bureaucracy shrinking act starts with
a redefinition of public service categories that are being reduced from
1,772 to 107. Among other measures being implemented, there is the closing
or transfer to the states of 20 foundations, autarchies, and public institutions.
There will be no saving at first, however, since no workers are being
fired. The cuts should happen by attrition, including retirement and resignation
in the coming years. It’s believed that it will take at least five years
until all the posts vacate. But that won’t come cheap. Public servants
are being encouraged to retire with up to an additional 20% in their pensions.
Most of the extinct functions will be filled by outside private contractors.
Right now the federal government will go on with its 90 waiters, 57 butchers,
six locksmiths, three governesses and two tailors, among others.
All the presidential hoopla seems aimed at placating public opinion
that has been accusing the administration of immobility in a key electoral
promise to contain inflation. According to newspaperman Alexandre Pinheiro,
the new measures will represent $380 million in economy for the government
in 1997, or less than 1% of the budget money used for personnel.
The surprising reform pleased almost no one, especially those who are
being directly hit. Departments in the line of fire are scrambling to try
to save their jobs. Among the 20 or so that are scheduled for cuts, several
are privatizing or transferring to the states, including Conab (Companhia
Nacional do Abastecimento — National Supplying Company), DNOCS (Departamento
Nacional de Obras Contra a Seca — National Department of Work Against
the Draught), and Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio
— National Foundation for the Indian).
Get in line
On April 1996, two reporters from the daily newspaper O Estado de
São Paulo spent a week following the adventures of common citizens
waiting in line while taking care of official business, timing how long
people had to wait before being heard. No line took less than an hour.
1 hour, 5 min. — Eletropaulo (Department of Power) — a complaint about
an electricity bill
1:30 — Detran (Traffic Department) — paying for car license
1:35 — Caixa Econômica Federal (Federal Savings Bank) — paying
1:40 — Instituto de Identificação (Identification Institute)
— applying for an ID
1:50 — Federal Revenue Service – getting a negative certificate
2:35 — Caixa Econômica Federal (Federal Savings Bank) — getting
3:10 — Federal Police — delivery of documents and picking up passport
4 hours — Secretaria Municipal de Negócios Jurídicos
(Business Municipal Department) — Paying overdue tax
All kinds of notaries
Cartório de Registro Civil (Civilian Registry Notary) — Deals
with birth, marriages, death, adoption, citizenship, opening of business
Cartório de Notas (Notary Public) — In charge of contracts,
power of attorney, wills, notarization and certification of documents.
Cartório de Registro de Imóveis (Notary for the Registry
of Deeds) — Sale and purchase of real estate.
Cartório de Distribuição (Filing Notary) — It
issues negative and positive certificates about taxes paid to the Union,
state of municipality.
Cartório de Protesto (Protest Notary) — It issues declaration
that a debtor has refused to pay a bill.
Registro de Títulos e Documentos (Register of Titles and Documents)
— Transcription of private contracts.
Playing the numbers
Sebastião Lopes de Mello, 36, a small-businessman from Pernambuco
in search of a part-time job, placed his résumé on the Internet.
He reserved part II of his presentation just for the documents he has.
II — DOCUMENTOS DE IDENTIFICAÇÀO
CARTEIRA PROFISSIONAL N. 53821 — Série: 00641 DRT/PE.
CARTEIRA DE IDENTIDADE ( R G ) 1.767.575 — SSP/PE.
C . P . F . 193.626.174 — 04
TÍTULO ELEITORAL 74667908/92 Zona — 011 Seção-
CARTEIRA DE RESERVISTA 682014 -Série-21 2a.
CARTEIRA DE HABILITAÇÀO 187.140.880- CATEG- “D”
vál. até 19/04/2000
P. I. S. 108.165.430-19
This first-person account was posted at the Brazilian forum on the Internet
called “soc.culture.brazil” at the end of July.
Here’s a true story about the Kafkaesque nature of the Brazilian Government
burrocracy (a play with burro, which in Portuguese means donkey,
but also dunce).
I recently used a US passport to enter Brazil and ended up having to
stay beyond the expiration of my visa/entry stamp. No problema,
I figured, just go to the federal police, explain why, pay the fee, and
get an extension stamped on the passport, like it says in the Fodors’ tourist
guidebook. Wrong! Here’s how it really works:
1. Go to the federal police station.
2. Wait two hours in line, then two more while they break for lunch.
3. Explain to big, smiling, friendly (but not too bright) cop why you
want an extension. Answer 30 minutes worth of questions about where you
are staying, who your relatives are, what do they do, your medical history,
4. Listen politely while Mr. Cop explains that, just maybe, he went
to school with your father-in-law, and they used to be on rival futebol
(soccer) teams, and his family owns a little farm not too far out of town,
and on and on for another 15 minutes or so. No problema, the office
is air-conditioned to around 50º F, and the dozen or so poor suckers
sweating bullets out in the waiting room are all Brazilian . . . they don’t
mind . . . so what if the office closes at 4 p.m.? They can come back tomorrow
and try again.
5. Zé Cop finally comes to the point: “Sorry, we can’t process
your application until you pay the fee, but you can’t pay it here. You
need to go to the bank and pay there, then bring back the receipt and we’ll
stamp your passport, OK? Really a pleasure meeting you! Have a nice day.
6. By now the banks are all closed, so walk half a mile to the nearest
bus stop, through a really “great” (sarcasm) neighborhood. Wait
20 minutes for bus. Bus pulls up . . . wait for back door to open . . .
front door opens . . . 20 micro-seconds . . . closes . . . bus pulls out,
peeling rubber. OK, dummy, you forgot . . . this year you enter in the
front and exit though the rear . . . never mind that last year it was the
other way round. Wait another 30 minutes for next bus . . . standing (and
sweating) room only, but what the hell. Now the trick is to start worming
your way toward the exit so you can get off within a few blocks of your
intended stop without trampling or getting trampled . . . really an art
to getting your position just right.
7. Next day, bright and early (for bankers, anyhow), 10:00 at the “Benji”
bank. “No, sorry, we don’t take that kind of payment. You need to
go to Banco do Brasil.” (This after 25 minutes or so in line to see
the “Special Services” representative.
8. Jump on borrowed bicycle and pedal off to main branch of B do B,
risking life with crazy Brazilian cyclists, dogs, motorists, etc. Swerve
to avoid a really big pile of doggy doo in the middle of the “cyclovia,”
inadvertently cutting of another cyclist. Get free lesson in Brazilian
hand gestures and colloquial idiom.
9. Arrive at Banco do Brasil at 11:05. Spend 10 minutes asking various
guards, functionaries, etc., which line (of six) to get into. Get three
different answers. Choose shortest of three . . . wait 20 minutes . . .
“Wrong line, you need federal receipt form . . . up two flights, all
the way down the hall and 3rd office on the right . . . then go to main
lobby downstairs and you can pay at any window.”
10. Upstairs: (elevator out of service) “Is this where I get Federal
Receipt forms?” “No! That’s one floor down and fourth office
on the right.”
11. Down one: “Is this where . . .?” “Yes, but you’ll
have to wait. I’m going to lunch now, and I’m already late. I’ll be back
in just a little while. Make yourself comfortable. Sorry about the air-conditioning;
we’ve been after maintenance to fix it for a month now. Here, you can turn
this fan around . . . much better, no? See you in a little while. Ciao..”
12. At around 1:20, Ms. Queiroz returns from her “quick lunch break”
(Actually, I shouldn’t complain; an hour and a half really is a
pretty quick lunch break for Brazilians, especially bank officials.) “Now,
what is the number of the form you need?” “Well, I don’t know
the number, but . . .” “No, no! We have hundreds of different
federal forms and they are all filed by number, you will need to get the
exact number!” “Well, ah, then, could you call the Federal Police
post and ask officer Zé Cop?” “OK, since you are a foreigner,
I’ll try, but remember in the future to always get the form number!”
13. Ms. Queiroz comes back at 2:10. “Yes, here it is. You need
form number 0835 000176/96-08 of Decree Number 86.715/81, and it must be
your lucky day, because we actually have that document in our files. But
before we give it to you, you will have to go downstairs and pay the R$3.75
document duplication fee and bring me back the receipt, OK?”
14. The bank closes at 3:00 and they have already cut off the line,
so it’s back on the bike through the loony traffic and dog doo, etc.
15. 9:00 AM of day number three. There’s already a line outside the
bank, but not too bad ( Brazilians are not generally early risers).
16. 10:10 AM. Crowd getting edgy, bank was supposed to open at 10:00.
Finally big fat scowling mulatto-type guard shows up and growls: “Get
back away from the door or I won’t open it!” We do, and he does, and
then it’s like when Raid shows up at the roach party . . . zoom, swish,
splat . . . goes a ripe melon on the floor, and in less than 15 seconds
all the lines are formed up and somehow or other I’m at the end of the
longest one. Almost 20 years, and I still haven’t got the Brazilian “line
etiquette” quite mastered . . . sorta like the samba, I guess, you
have to be born to it.
17. Around 11:00 AM. I pay the fee, get the receipt, and head upstairs
to pick up the forms (triplicate, of course). “Sorry, Ms. Queiroz
hasn’t come in yet. Please have a seat. Sorry about the air-conditioning;
would you like me to turn on the fan? There, now that’s better, no?”
18. Around 11:45 AM she shows up. “Oh, hi Mr. Ready! Glad you came
in early. I have a luncheon meeting with a client in just a few minutes,
so you were really lucky to catch me.” “Yes, I know! Anyhow,
here’s the receipt, can I please have my forms now?” “OK, just
a minutinho, I had the original for that form out for you yesterday.
Now where the heck did it go?”
19. 11:55 AM: “Ah, here it is! Oh, fiddle! Who went and spilled
coffee all over it? Hey Sílvia, I’ve gotta run. See if you can help
Mr. Ready here, OK?”
20. 12:20 PM: After diddling with the “Cherox” (that’s Brazilian
for “copier”) for nearly a half hour, Sílvia comes back
with three almost legible copies (the part with the coffee stain came out
the best), and I’m outta there! Sprinting downstairs to get in line again
to pay the “Prorrogação Tax.”
21. 1:35 PM at the window: “No, I’m sorry, we can’t accept your
payment of the “Prorrogação Tax” here. No,
sorry, I don’t know where. If you wait over there, I’ll see if my supervisor
can help you. Next please.
22. About 2:10 PM: Sr. Zé Chief shows up looking very distinguished
in his neatly pressed dark blue suit. “No, we can’t accept that payment
here. Yes, I know they said Banco do Brasil, but they should have told
you that only our branch office inside the Federal Revenue building can
do it.” “Kind sir, could you possibly do me the great favor of
orienting me as to where I might find that noble edifice?” said I
(well, at least that’s the general meaning of what I said . . . my actual
words may have been slightly less elegant).
23. Day number 4, 9:30 AM, in front of the Receita Federal. Half
the bloody town is over here today . . . yesterday it was the bank, what’s
24. 10:30 AM: Wow, only 30 minutes in line and I’m at the window! “Yes,
Mr. Ready, this is the right place, but we need a transaction code or the
computer will not let us process your payment and issue your receipt.”
“Well, kind sir, I haven’t a fucking clue what the fucking transaction
code is. Isn’t that supposed to be your fucking job!?” “Calm
down, Mr. Ready, let me see if my supervisor can find the right code. Please
have a seat over there. Next please.”
25. About 11:15 AM: Banco do Brasil Mr. Chefe number 2, — a.k.a. The
Walrus, this guy has to weigh at least 275 lbs., with a Zé Sarney
(former President José Sarney) mustache and all; all that’s missing
are the tusks — waddles up with all the dignity he can muster. “What
seems to be the problem, Mr. Ready?” “Oh nothing, really. I’ve
just been trying for the past week to renew my visa before I make international
headlines as the first American to get deported from this fair city as
an illegal alien.” “OK, this should be easy. Just get back at
the end of the line and when the clerk asks for the code you tell him “0835”
and then add your CPF number.” “CP what?” “CPF, of
course. You do have one, don’t you, Mr. Ready? No? Uai, then you will have
to go over there and stand in that other line and wait your turn to be
cadastrated.” “Whoa, Mr. Chief! I’m just looking to extend my
visa for a few weeks and I don’t have AIDS or anything nasty like that,
and, besides, my wife might not like that idea.”
26. After another 45 minutes in line, the actual cadastration was relatively
painless. And I finally did (after another hour or so back in the bank
window line) get the stamps on my receipts.
27. Day number 5: Spent the whole morning waiting in the “sweat
box” to see Zé Cop back at the Polícia Federal and finally
got my prorogation stamp on my passport, literally just hours before I
would have become an illegal alien.
So now I proudly carry my CPF card wherever I go, so I can prove to
anybody who asks that I am a Cadastrated Physical Person (yeah, I know
that’s CFP, not CPF, but everything is ass-backward in the Southern Hemisphere).
Moral of the story: If you ever have to deal with the Brazilian burrocracy,
be sure to leave yourself at least 500% more time than you would figure
in the real (as opposed to $Real ) world. Unfortunately, this story will
likely appear rather trivial to most people who live in Brazil and have
to put up with far greater and even more comical levels of incompetence
and confusion every day of their lives.
100 cruzeiros more
Receiving a certain amount at a Department’s window, he noticed that
the public servant had given him an extra 100 cruzeiros. He wanted to go
back to return the money, but other people protested: he should go back
Patiently he waited for his turn, only to have the little window closed
at his face by the cashier.
— I’m sorry, but it’s my coffee break now.
Now it was a question of stubbornness. He came back in the afternoon
to find an even longer line — he wasn’t even able to get close to the
window before office hours came to a close.
The next day he was the first one in line.
— Look, yesterday you gave an extra 100 cruzeiros.
Only then he noticed that this was another worker.
— Your colleague, then. The guy with the little mustache.
— If his name is Mafra, I don’t know.
— It could only have been Mafra. The only ones who work here are me
and Mafra. It wasn’t me. So . . .
He scratched his head, annoyed.
— OK, it was Mafra. What’s the difference?
The public servant explained very politely that he couldn’t answer for
— This here is a paying department, pal. I cannot receive. All I can
do is pay. To receive, only the receivership. Next.
The guy next in line, already impatient, pushed him with an elbow. Love
your neighbor as yourself. He tried to keep calm and left, a little lost.
In a sudden impulse of indignation — now he would go to the bitter end
— he marched to the receivership.
— Mafra? He doesn’t work here, my friend. By the way, he never did.
— I know that. He is from the paying department. But he was the one
who gave me the extra 100 cruzeiros.
They told him that they couldn’t receive, that this was a restitution,
wasn’t it, and not a payment. Had he brought the form?. What then? How
could he make any payment without a form? To receive one thousand cruzeiros?
For what purpose?
— Not one thousand, one hundred. For the purpose of returning some
— Purpose of returning. Can somebody explain me that?
— But I will return it and that’s the end of it.
— You have to deal with the chief. Next!
The department’s chief had already left. He would have to wait one more
day. The next day, after making him wait for more than half an hour, the
chief informed him that he would need to write a letter telling what had
happened and including the money.
— Since you are so intent on returning it.
— I absolutely want to do it.
— I praise you character.
— But our friend at that window told me that all I had to do was to
hand the money over to you — he sighed.
— Who said that?
— A man wearing glasses at that section on the other side. Receivership,
— Araújo. He said that, um? Well, listen, go back there and
tell him to stop being such a jackass. You can tell him that I said that.
This Araújo is always pretending that he knows it all.
— How about the letter? I have nothing to do with this quarrel, let’s
do that letter right now.
— It’s impossible. First you have to deliver it to the registry window.
Leaving the place, instead of going to the registry window, or to Araújo’s
desk to tell him to stop being such a jackass, the honest citizen went
up to the window where they had given him the money, made a little ball
with the cruzeiro bill, threw it over the glass and left.
(from A companheira de viagem)
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