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The last major news out of Ecuador was about Correas’ victory in the presidential elections. Correa is Ecuador’s left-leaning populist president, friend and ally of Venezuela’s former Hugo Chavez, and setting Ecuador on an increasingly unknown path. At least for those of us who live here.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of close coverage on the ground about what is actually happening in the country first hand, and how his policies are affecting people.
As my readers know, we’ve been struggling with compliance issues for our chocolate business. When we first went to get our Ministry of Health operating permit renewed this year, and read the list of new requirements, I was already sure the writing was on the wall. But as a few weeks and months passed, the requirements didn’t seem so insurmountable, and I had a faint hope we might be able to continue operating without too much concern. We did everything we could within reason and reasonable expense to comply.
One of the requirements was to implement a system of good manufacturing practices, which we did within reasonable cost and effort. Like many small businesses here in Ecuador, we operate in what was once an older building, and obviously many of the construction standards do not fit within good manufacturing practices criteria. The cost in time and money to retrofit the building is beyond our budget, and would be beyond most small business’ ability to do. We thought maybe the inspector might be pragmatic and flexible.
She came this morning, and wouldn’t bend an inch. Typical of bureaucrats, both here and probably everywhere else, she was utterly by the book and unwilling to be accommodating. Inflexible and narrowminded, maybe without even the slightest idea that by adamantly and overzealously enforcing regulations that don’t fit with the reality of the country, she’s going to close businesses and put people out of work.While I understand the government’s effort to professionalize the production of goods and services in Ecuador, there’s also a need for pragmatism and flexibility.
This would mean that bureaucrats would be given the leeway to interpret regulations in such a way that most of the time it would benefit most of the people. However, and this is an idiosyncrasy commonly found in Ecuador, most of the time there is little flexibility and individuals are unwilling to do anything that might put at risk their job or position. And, they are also willing and able to subject you to arbitrary whims, as it’s almost impossible to go to a higher up or someone else who might hold them accountable for their decisions.
Therefore, no one rocks the boat, no one is willing to take a chance, no one is willing to help you out if it means it might jeopardize their position, challenge their knowledge, or otherwise put them in a position where a superior might question their judgement. Of course, that means looking at the bigger picture is out of the question-it would never cross someone’s mind to say “Well, I decided we could be flexible on that, otherwise we’d have to shut them down.” Nope, just doesn’t happen, and probably never will.
While it’s bad enough that we see our business being squeezed, what makes it worse is that we see this happening with other business owners we know in a variety of sectors. Also, we are seeing our childrens’ school being squeezed by the Ministry of Education, and it’s looking like things are heading in a downward spiral towards mediocrity. I’ll cover that topic in another post.