Last week, I decided to be the law abiding citizen and to go and get my annual tax clearance. I decided to do it the proper way, using no connections (Wasta), having no special arrangements made for me, and not even seeking the help of someone who knows the procedure. You see, I said to myself “I am an adult. I should be able to handle this very simple task. ” It was an experience!
I arrived at the tax authorities at exactly 10 am last Wednesday, and boy was the place crowded. I asked the man at the door where I should go and although I asked him in Arabic he insisted to respond to me in his broken barely comprehendible English. The blonde hair does that, at times even when you do ask someone a question in Arabic he doesn’t register the fact that you are an Arab and he insists to speak to you in English. By now I find that funny.
Anyway, this English speaking man directed me to one of those machines where you are supposed to get a number , and based on that number you should wait your turn. The machine had a bunch of people grouping up next to it and even a few men on top of it. It was not working.
Anyway those people were not planning to give up on it. They insisted to punch at it hoping it will eventually work. Their assumptions were not far from true, a few minutes later the machine just lit up by itself and it started dispensing numbers. It was in that moment that the phrase “it’s now or never” gained a whole new level of respect from me. People were speeding to get a number, because no one knew when the machine will break down again. I got a number as well, but seeing it being 510 was a huge let down.
Still insisting not to seek help, I went and sat in the plastic chairs to wait my turn. While sitting there I did what I actually enjoy most, I engaged in people watching. The first observation I made was that I was amongst a few women there, most of the people around me were men. Many of those people would just reach the line only to realize that their documents are incomplete.
Normally, this would be an invitation for them to go home and come back the next day to complete the procedure. But, this was not the case. In our society people in this situation do what they think they can get away with. They negotiated, only to realize that they can’t bend the rules. Meanwhile, I heard someone behind me talking on the phone to a person who I assume was of high caliber. He was trying to get his connections to speed up the process for himself. His attempts worked, because a few minutes later a man in a suit came and told him to follow him into the office. I guess he was exempted from waiting.
An older woman with a Hijab ignored the small step of getting a number. Instead, she walked to the line and stood right next to it. Like a wolf waiting to pounce on his pray, she waited patiently for a small space in the line to open up, only to push herself into it. She succeeded, as the men in the line were too embarrassed to tell her anything. When she got to the bored looking guy behind the counter, she proceeded to tell him her life story and how she doesn’t know what forms to fill out, where to go, or what to do. He told her where to go, but she looked at him with horror saying “Can’t you just fix it for me. ” His reply was a short and clear no. So, in pure disappointment, she left the line but as she was leaving she told a man to save her a place.
Of course, he said ok but he knew that that was impossible. In the meantime, a man was shouting at another employee saying that he has every right not to pay the taxes he has to pay, and then system was down. Other people were walking from one window to the next damning the tax system as he walked by, others were waiting in the seats complaining about how they have better things to do. A third group of people exchanged phone numbers to do future business, as the halls hummed with idle chatter.
In theory, the whole process of getting a tax clearance should not take time, but for me it took two hours. I had my forms, i did my homework, but my problem was a delay caused by people who think they cannot follow instructions and get away with it.
I think that if we all followed instructions, connections would not have any power in Jordan. They only have power because people want to cut corners.
Food for thought.