Monday, February 6, 2012

Government created monopolies, inefficiency and venting from Cape Town

So we've been quiet for the past few weeks during our road trip down to Cape Town but we're still alive. The drive down was pretty uneventful. Zimbabwe is looking much better than I expected. With the conversion to the dollar the store shelves in Harare at least are full. The roads were good all the way down except for a brief 100 kilometre stretch in Mozambique and our car performed admirably. However by the time that I'd made it through to Zimbabwe my passport was worryingly full, I had only one half-page left. Why do so many African countries insist on using full page stickers to admit you in? Surely if a nice quarter page stamp is good enough for South Africa it's good enough for Mozambique or Zimbabwe.

Luckily Americans can get pages added to their existing passports at most US embassies. I am in the process of doing it right now. Unfortunately its been a bit of a mission. I first enquired at the Cape Town US consulate if indeed they could add such pages. They said yes but first I would have to make an appointment online and print out confirmation of having done so. With that confirmation in hand I went to the consulate this morning, filled out a form, and went to the cashier. The fee is $82 US dollars (ouch!). Having brought both South African Rand and US dollars with me I asked the cashier what exchange rate they used and was told 8.5 SA rands to 1 US dollar. This rate is woefully out of date, the current market rate is 7.5 to 1. So paying the fee is US dollars would have been better except for the tiny issue that the US consulate didn't have sufficient US dollars to give me change in US dollars when I handed him a 100 dollar bill. I asked if he couldn't simply give me the change in rands? He said no. So I had to pay in rands at the woefully outdated exchange rate so that it actually cost me the equivalent of 93 US dollars. Yeah for me. Having paid the cashier I returned to the counter and was then told that I could not receive my passport until tomorrow. I was surprised at this because when I had first enquired about adding pages to my passport I was told that it only took a couple hours to complete the process. Yeah again. Resigned, I asked when I could pick up my passport tomorrow and was told that I was not allowed to return to the consulate to pick up the passport but instead had the privilege of paying DHL, who conveniently had an office right in the lobby, an additional 90 rand (about 12 dollars) to express mail it to my hotel in Cape Town the next day. Yeah again!

Who thinks this is reasonable? And how could they arrive at that conclusion? Why does the US consulate in Cape Town not have US dollars sufficient to give me $18 dollars in change? Don't know. And why couldn't they simply have given me the equivalent in rand? Don't know. And why does the US consulate force people to use a private company, DHL, to give them a service that they don't even want? Don't know. But I'm going to make a meagre effort to find out by sending these same questions to the said US consulate. I am expecting a lot of useless platitudes about the importance of security, accounting issues, and assurances that they really are doing their best to serve me, etc. We'll see if I'm right. I'm going to post their response here if/when I receive one.