Thursday, March 22, 2012

If a government can't even provide licence plates....

I’d noticed a lot of cars driving around without licence plates, but figured it was just another aspect of the casual approach to laws in Honduras.
I’m reading the papers each morning to improve my Spanish and learn about the country. (Though I’ve started to skip the murder stores; it was just getting too grisly day after day.)
And La Prensa just reported that some 330,000 cars and motorcycles are driving around without licence plates - almost 25 per cent of the total number of vehicles.
Because the government doesn’t have licence plates to hand out.
No new car licence plates have been available since last May. In La Ceiba, they ran out of motorcycle plates in late 2010.
The government, responsible for security and economic policy and all those important things, can’t get organized to have licence plates for people who need them.
The result is a huge hassle for drivers. Crimes don’t seem to get solved here - one report suggested a two-per-cent closure rate for murders, certainly it's less than one in 10. But there are a lot of police roadblocks to check your papers. (We learned last week that photocopies of our passports - even signed and certified by the Canadian embassy - weren’t good enough at a roadside stop. Police sent us on our way with a warning, but it was a tense few minutes for us, and everyone else in the van who feared a long wait.)
So drivers have to schlep down to the licensing office and get papers that give them the right to drive without plates.
That’s an ordeal, according to the paper. You need to get there before 7 a.m. to have any chance of getting the paperwork processed. One guy quoted in the paper had gone four times, unsuccessfully, in one week. And there are only three offices for the country, so some people have to drive for hours just to get there. It would be a three-hour trek for anyone in Copan Ruinas.
Once they’re at the centre, staff take their paperwork and drivers wait outside for hours while it’s reviewed “minuciosamente,” one of those words that is clear even if you don’t speak Spanish.
It gets worse. The permits were good for 30 days. Drivers had to keep going back each month. The government extended them to 59 days recently.
And it’s not just a headache for drivers. In the largely unlikely event witnesses decide to report a crime, they have no way of identifying the car to police.
So why can’t the government get the plates? Despite a two-page spread on the topic (La Prensa, like all the papers here, is a tab), that was never actually explained.
The man in charge said the problem has been around since 2008. The government has placed an emergency order for 150,000 pairs of plates and hopes to have them in six weeks, but that’s less than half the number needed.
He implied, sort of, that getting the plates was complicated because the government wanted to make sure there was no corruption involved in the process. But the 150,000 plates was still a direct-award contract, without competitive bids. (That's a subject for another post.)
And that still doesn’t offer any explanation for why the government can’t get its act together to issue a tender call.
I’m not criticizing the newspapers. My experiences as a stranger in a strange land has left me wondering if Canadian newspapers leave the same kind of holes, which I was able to fill in on my own.
For example, no report I’ve seen has offered any sort of real explanation for why ousted cabinet minister Harry Bloy was given a Vancouver Province reporter’s questions about a private school sent to Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto. What was he supposed to do with the document?
Or, for that matter, why managers and board of BC Rail, a Crown corporation, paid $297,000 to Liberal uber-insider Patrick Kinsella for advice on dealing with the government, instead of just talking to the minister responsible.
Both stories would baffle a Honduran newly arrived in British Columbia.
And as a newcomer, I’m not leaping to criticize the Honduran government.
But this country has a lot of problems. If the people in charge can’t figure out how to buy licence plates, it’s hard to see how they’ll solve the tougher ones.
And if citizens are stuck wasting vast amounts of time in a bureaucratic swamp, it’s one more drag on an already weak economy.
Me, I'll stick to walking.

Footnote: The photo of drivers trying to get temporary permits for their vehicles is from La Prensa.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why didn't the defence department buy these subs?

West Edmonton Mall is selling its fleet of submarines, an opportunity that the Canadian Navy has somehow failed to seize. After all, the four submarines are cheaper than the British castoffs the navy bought, which have provided total failures.
And they apparently work.
Unlike the British subs.

And look at the pictures? Which would you buy?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

'Even Jesus had a line in the sand'

Jody Paterson left the regular Monday morning devotional at her Honduran workplace not quite so enthused about the warmth and sharing.

"I get that faith brings comfort to people living in difficult times. Hondurans need God because life here on Earth is cruel and harsh for so many of them, and if you couldn't believe that things were going to improve in the afterlife you'd probably go crazy.
But maybe a little more crazy is in order right about now. All of this violence isn't God's will, it's just what happens when the rule of law is completely negated, the tentacles of the massive cocaine industry seep into all facets of life, and a government is too weak and compromised to act. Violence has been normalized in Honduras, and it seems to me that accepting that as God's will is virtually a guarantee that nothing will improve for people here."

You can, and should, read the post here.