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Cutting through the red tape

[ 2009-06-12 14:11]     字号 [] [] []  
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<P>Cutting through the red tape</P>Reader question:

Please explain “red tape” in this sentence – I’m helping you to cut through the red tape.

My comments:

Strictly speaking, by helping you to cut through the red tape, they’re helping to save you time seeking government approval for, say, a business project.

Government approval, you see, involves rubber stamps and signed signatures from officials who are in charge of overseeing the said project. That in turn, involves what is called paperwork, or red tape.

All necessary procedures, bureaucrats say.

Formalism, if you ask the public.

Or sheer bureaucracy.

In the old days in England, governmental papers were sealed and bound with red tape; hence “red tape” has been synonymous with bureaucracy.

In all fairness, bureaucracy is not just prevalent in government. It exists to one high degree or another in all organizations. It’s there in every office, committee and company.

It is everywhere because red tape makes bureaucrats appear more important than they really are. The essential job of a government office clerk, you see, is really nothing more than a public service. In other words, it’s a chore and not a well-paying chore if you ask them. When people ask for a stamp, the clerk presses the rubber against a piece of paper. When people ask for names to be signed on the paper, they sign them.

<P>Cutting through the red tape</P>

Simple as that?

No. That’s too simple for the clerk’s comfort. That makes him too much like a public servant doing a public service. That does no help to his ego, self esteem or worth.

And so he invents, er, obstacles. He makes things difficult. If he could sign his name today, he won’t do it. He says instead: “Alright, everything’s here. You’re all set. Come in next December.”

It would take that long, you ask, wondering.

“Yes,” replies he curtly. “We’ll discuss it. To be totally frank with you, I foresee thirty three meetings. And the final approval won’t be made, of course, until the big boss comes back from a visit to America.”

Now you as a businessmen can’t wait that long. Therefore you find someone who can “help you to cut through the red tape”.

That someone is someone who knows the big boss personally, or someone who knows someone who knows the big boss personally. In short, someone who has the connections, as we Chinese say.

On your behalf this someone offers the big boss token gifts, such as a Parker pen, or invites him to banquets, karaoke bars, massage parlors, Paris, Bali or Las Vegas.

All paid by you course.

In return, the big boss may elect to sign your papers in August, next week or tomorrow.

That’s red tape for you in a nutshell and, as we Chinese say, it’s been there ever since there were dogs.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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