Venezuela: a country with no rules
In Venezuela, the period of time necessary to register a company, a property, and obtain the desired document that turns a citizen into a property owner may take up to four months only if one is lucky. If it concerns more complex companies and the document was rejected because of not counting on this or such requirement demanded by the register, one could wait up to six months. Accomplishing this goal requires a challenging trip filled with thousand steps, in addition to the discretional attitude of the official that destiny prepared for us.
To specialists, this is not only an efficacy issue over management. It concerns a system that stops Venezuela's economy and encourages many entrepreneurs to take the high road by opting for informality as to avoid the complications of entering the world of registries. It is like pushing people to live on the edge of the legal processes, as a response to such difficult processes.
Looking from the distance at the huge web of tiny reddish houses that surround Caracas, not only we see a world of poverty on the edge of new technologies and the economic environment that makes the big city become alive. In that labyrinthine world composed of almost 70% of the population, people have access to many of the advantages that the modern world offers.
Unseen to us, but indeed a reality in such places, is a country filled with informality where legal transactions are part of a remote dream. There are no clear property rights; addresses are not verified. Fourteen million people live in low-income barrios (data supplied by Josefina Baldó, professor of urban studies), most of which illegally settled. Add to this that half population forms part of the informal economy (data supplied by the National Statistics Institute, INE), a huge portion of which operates by illegal means.
The concept does not belong to the author of these lines but to Hernando de Soto, who in his book "El Misterio del Capital" (The mystery of capital) relates the drama of the failure of third world countries to incorporate modernity and formality for their citizens' use. Soto, an outstanding Peruvian economist chosen by Forbes magazine among the 15 persons who "will reform the future" describes in his book: "Imagine a country where nobody can identify who owns what; home addresses cannot be easily verified; people are not forced to pay their debts; ownership cannot be divided into shares and where ownership regulations vary from neighborhood to neighborhood (... ) You just transported to a developing country or a country that has just left communism behind."
Over the past few years, centralized processes and control policies have made administrative steps more difficult. Simple things like registering or changing license plates; authenticating diplomas, marks, or a death certificate; legalizing a succession or the requirements to import the materials needed for the industry; in Venezuela tend to become titanic actions which require certain degree of specialization and additional expenses to speed up the procedure, by illegal means of course.
Every day, new laws and requirements are established for companies to be able to operate in the country and undoubtedly, these very requirements make corporate processes more expensive; make corporations more inefficient; arrest their development; in brief, they make life more expensive.
Among these situations, over the past few years, the case of registry and notary offices has widely stood out as one of the most complex checkpoints, especially commercial registry offices
As a result, a group of 110 attorneys who work for different lawyer's offices at the Federal District have voiced a warning cry to the National Directorate of Registry and Notary Offices (Saren) because their activities have been on hold -even for several months - waiting for a document or a copy. The complex steps they must take have turned out to stop important operations of companies, both national and foreign, that find a stepping stone almost unavoidable when they face the registration.
What lawyers say
In a letter submitted to the Directorate of Registry and Notary Offices, these lawyers made to the organization a number of denunciations that have adversely affected hundreds of companies.
They question the current automatic system, which, rather than simplifying processes, "has turned them more complicated, inefficient and bureaucratic." They contend that the system automation, intended to serve more users, has operated to the contrary.
In order to receive numbered tickets at some registry offices, it is necessary to line up from the dawn and sometimes from the previous night. In some cases, people who obtain the numbered tickets are false users who sell their place to real users.
Some times, it is necessary to go to the registry office more than once in order to -for instance- have recorded the minute of a meeting or the articles of incorporation. Such step can last 30-90 days provided no additional complication comes up.
The lawyers point out that public servants render a "hostile" service; they look impatient and discouraged. "Such workers' attitude may be caused by the reduction of their salary occurred a year ago," indicates the letter.
Claimants point out that submitted documents tend to be sent back to lawyers; requirements absent in the law are made; many times, corrections are made on the very same documents, depending on the reviewer's discretional nature. Some times, previously checked documents are rejected with new remarks, as inspectors are not always the same.
They regret as well that in some registry offices, submitted documents are not kept in the appropriate files. Instead, they are kept in boxes awaiting a filing clerk who arranges them. Such process can take up to three months. As a result, it is impossible to obtain a certified copy of any document in a reasonable period of time.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
Luis Jiménez Alfaro seems to have hidden under the rocks. The last time he was seen was on April 2006 walking calmly around Simón Bolívar International Airport of Maiquetía, located nearby Caracas. At that time, more than five tons of cocaine arrived in Mexico in an airplane which took off from Venezuela, and his name featured as a missing piece of the puzzle of one of the most massive drug shipments that has been witnessed in the Western Hemisphere.