The "must be a new guy" communication issue


All teams, whether bigger or smaller, suffer from communication issues. But when teams are organizations as huge as states, then funny things start to happen. This is such an anecdote.

A few days ago I had to legalize some spanish tax documents in order to present them to the greek tax authorities. Legalize a document actually means get some official sign  and ink-stamp it. On top of that you need the apostille of the Hague, which essentially is another paper confirming that the original paper is indeed signed from the authorized person.

At that point I'd like to note that the documents where already electronically verifiable by a unique hash. We live in an era with so much talking about secure authentication, verification etc when there are still whole countries out there that base their authentication on ridiculously easy to forge mechanisms. And on a convention from 1961. But that's another issue.

In any case, I had to go first to the Ministry of Finance to get the documents signed and the to the Ministry of Justice to get the apostille of  the Hague, or should I say the plague. So I'm at the Ministry of Finance explaining to the two nice old ladies what I need and they tell me to wait until they get my papers ready. They come back to me after a few minutes with the signed papers and I was ready to go. But before I leave, I notice that although the document was like four or five pages long only the first one was signed.

This astute observation was the result of some hard earned skills I developed while coping with the public sector in Greece. Everything boils down to one rule: never trust the public servants and double check your documents.

Of course, I go back and ask them if that's ok and if there will be a problem for having the apostille on the whole document. They reassure me that this is the normal procedure and that there'll be no problem with that. My guts don't believe a thing but what can I do. After all, I'm in a different country now, maybe things here work, who knows.

After waiting a super long queue at the Ministry of Justice, my turn comes and I find my self sitting in front of one of those desks with a bored autistically bureaucratic clerk behind them. I explain to him what I want and he tells me that it can't be done (of course) and he can only verify the first page of the document. "But they told me this is how it's done...", I mumbled, in a desperate attempt to save myself of repeating this process only to receive the counterargument: "You know it's vacation period, there are a lot of substitutes. The person who told you that, must be new.". "Not on this earth" I thought, recalling the two old ladies.

Well, there I was again on the Ministry of Finance, with the one lady that was still in the office, trying to explain to her that the document should be signed in every page. Fortunately it didn't take too much convincing her, all she had to do is sign a couple more pages. Nevertheless she seemed troubled with the behavior of the other clerk and she stunned me with her remark: "You know it's vacation period, there are a lot of substitutes. The person who told you that, must be new.". At least there is a consistency on that.
Stathis Fotiadis 10 August 2014

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