Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tales of the traffic and the government

The last couple of weeks I spent a couple of days at various workshops which Practical Action either organized or co-organized together with the municipality or the national government. Quite an eye opener and really fascinating, as these really showed at which level Peru actually is. You can live a first-world life here – but there are two things where you notice that you are in a third world country: the traffic and the government. First of all a video of 9am traffic in Lima (no, it is not the busiest time!):

Let me just say a couple more words to the traffic in Lima: It is actually only crazy Monday through Saturday. On Sunday’s the streets are practically deserted. I’m still not quite sure why this is, as on Sunday many Peruvians go out for a big family lunch. Ah well maybe this may be the reason: they spend the whole afternoon in the Restaurant J. Another thing you notice here are the huge amount of taxis. I would say the taxis account for roughly 30% of all the traffic. They are literally all over. If you’re walking you will get hooted at constantly by taxis, asking you if you want to ride instead of walk. This is also very typical here: Peruvians do not walk. Even if it’s only a 10 minute walk, they take their car or go by taxi (of course taking them much longer than if they had walked J). Taxis here do not have taximeters, so you need to know how far your destination is and how much the ride should be. Prices all depend on the time of day or night you are travelling. During the day prices are lower than at night, but if you dare to travel during peak time (morning, midday or evening) then your ride will be much more. Taxi drivers just calculate the price according to the amount of traffic there is. Another thing you need to know when you catch a taxi here: you need to know exactly where you’re going and you need to be able to explain this to the taxi driver. Although you will find all of them playing around with their smartphones, and some of them even looking up on google maps, they do not use the navigation system. So they heavily rely on their passengers to tell them where they want to go. Bad luck if you don’t know your way around…

So much to the traffic – now some funny tales of the government: One of the workshops I attended was a workshop Practical Action co-organized together with the Ministry of Finances. The objective of the workshop was to make sure that every municipality in eastern Lima knows how to submit their budget. This might seem like basics to you – and I was also wondering why we needed a whole days workshop for this. The reason is very simple: many municipalities never submit a budget, thus never receive any money from the national government, simply because they didn’t know that they needed to submit a budget and would then receive money, or because they don’t know how to work with Excel! Yes, you have read correctly: the budget has to be submitted in a specific Excel form which all municipalities receive from the national government (welcome to Peruvian bureaucracy!), but so many people here do not even know how to use Excel. Actually so many people working at government level do not even have an official email address – they give everyone their Hotmail address J. So if the budget is not submitted in this specific Excel form you will simply not receive any money – so not knowing how to use Excel can become a major issue here. At the workshop we found out that only about half of the municipalities in eastern Lima had submitted a budget for 2015! So no wonder the new major in Chaclacayo complained about not having money – they were among the municipalities which had not submitted a budget! Here come some photos of the event. Emilie and Abel from Practical Action, both part of the Zurich project, held short presentations informing about the work Practical Action and Zurich do in two communities of eastern Lima.

Our logo is allover :-) 

Emilie giving her presentation

The representatives from the municipalities

Abel giving his presentation
Hard at work, learning how to submit a budget

I think I’ve mentioned before that Peru is a highly bureaucratic country with extremely complicated processes. If you want to do something correctly and legally it can take you ages, cost you a lot of money and nerves. And this is one big reason for so much illegality in this country: Actually only about 10 percent is official and therefor legal, everything else is unofficial or illegal (meaning: shops, houses, businesses, streets, mini buses etc!)

I’ve probably also mentioned before that elections here are always connected to people, and never to political parties. This automatically means that there is always a huge hype around a 2-3 people before the elections, and then one gigantic hype around the winner of the elections. And the winner of the elections of course has to show himself in an appropriate way. When the new major of Lima was elected last year, the first thing he did when he came into power was to change ALL the logos of the city of Lima ALLOVER. Yes, you have read correctly, this is no joke. Imagine if Zurich would change its logos every time a new CEO gets elected? Well, that’s exactly what happens here. So instead of spending money on something really necessary, he goes and changes all the logos to “his” logo. Of course, this will change again when he is voted out of office. Oh, and now guess what the second major thing was he changed? Yes! He painted all old houses in central Lima yellow, because they had been painted a different color by his predecessor and yellow is “his” color. Why spend money on something as unnecessary as a metro or better streets, or simply on the population itself, when you can go painting the city in your colors and change your logos? The metro actually, which is even been supported by big, international companies like Siemens or KfW, has now obviously been stopped again. Why? Well, there are national elections next year, and who would anyone want to carry on work now if his successor will change everything anyway again? But the hilarious thing is that an official metro plan already exists, here’s the link to it (so you can imagine how a metro system might look like if it eventually gets finished like in 50 years): http://limanorte.com/2014/metro_LN_14.php
Actually they first started working on the metro in the 1980ies – but work stopped as a new government was elected. And even with international funding now it is not continuing.

By now you must think I am mad and making up all these stories, but no, you have read correctly and this is unfortunately no joke – it’s how I tend to say: Peruvian!

Some of you ask me from where our people here at Practical Action take their energy and dedication to work with such a government. Well basically the answer is quite simple: All people who work in the “field”, with the communities, local, regional and national government are Peruvians. So they obviously do not know it any other way, for them how the government acts or does not act is “normal”. They just are in the lucky position to have had a good education and to know how to deal with the government if you want to get things done. And this is their dedication: they want to help the poorer communities who are less lucky than they are. And you really need people like them here, because you are not going to change the political system or the government, so you need to teach the population to live with it, and to make the best out of their possibilities. 

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