Everybody knows that some countries “excel” in bureaucracy over others. On a European level Greece definitely belongs to the top of the league. On a national playing field within Greece, IKA must be the champion. The one and only requirement to enter the IKA workforce used to be your affiliation with the right political powers. Today I had an unusually “easy” experience.
On behalf of Yvonne I had to go to IKA (the national insurer for employees) to get a statement that she didn’t owe them money for the period that she was insured there (from May till October 2003). This type of document (the infamous “Βεβαίωση” or Certification is something that you need a million times in a Greek life time) was requested by her new insurer, TEVE (the national insurer for self-employed). My encounters with IKA have been less than smooth in the past to say the least, and I usually cringe at the idea of having to confront them. At least this feeling I share with millions of other Greeks.
After procrastinating over this for a couple of weeks I made my way to IKA this morning. There were only half a dozen people waiting already and of the 5 counters available to the public, only one was manned – or “womanned” in this case. Six other ladies were busy merrily chatting about very important things like what they had for dinner last night and the burden of children in these troublesome times of The Intahrnet, and “had they heard about the nephew of mrs so-and-so’s neighbour’s brother-in-law?” and so on and so forth. Very essential stuff for the functioning of any public service. After a few minutes one of them caught a glimpse of us staring at them and gave the sign for all of them to take up their posts.
Another 15 minutes later it was my turn. I had with me Yvonne’s insurance booklet – issued by IKA no less – containing all the relevant information. I presented this to the lady with my request for the “Certification”. She handed me a form which needed to be filled in with the exact information that was already in the booklet. No computer for miles in sight. When I finished she took that form, put on a few extra words, initialised it in the top right hand corner and stamped it with 2 or 3 different seals. Then she filed it. Next she proceeded to fill in a form herself in double, on her typewriter, asked me to sign both copies, after which she put a few more stamps on it, and ordered me to go 1 level up for the “Πρωτόκολλο”, the Register. Why she couldn’t register this herself I don’t know and I have long stopped questioning the ways of the Greek bureaucracy, so I went up the stairs to the Register.
I was the only one there and after the lady took the documents, duly made an entry in a her register and put a few more stamps on the documents, I went back downstairs. My public servant scrutinized the new stamps, put one more on the documents and order me to take them to the “προϊστάμενο”, the department head, one door down the hall.
When I entered his office (it was indeed a man, hey, after all it’s the HEAD) he was busy chatting up to a nice looking young lady, so he let me wait. After a minute or so he extended his left hand to me, without even looking away from his muse, and I figured he wanted the documents and put those in his hand. He wanted them indeed and I was pleased that I had been able to satisfy his needs. Without looking at them he initialised them, put yet another 2 stamps on them and handed them back to me, all this without ever stopping to chat to or losing sight of his object of admiration. How’s that for parallel processing?!
Back to my very own public servant. She looked at the documents, filed them and produced yet another document onto which she wrote Yvonne’s name and her affiliation number, plus the obligatory stamp, date and signature, and off you go! have a nice day!
All in all, a very smooth operation. Three documents had been produced and properly stamped – multiple times, initialised, signed and countersigned, one of which was even registered. Three people had been provided work and the public had once again been served. And there are people, malicious serpents of course, who claim that Greece ranks low in productivity! It could have been much worse. It has been, believe you me…
Tomorrow, Yvonne and I go to TEVE together…