Yesterday I spent three hours running around Yerevan in order to resolve issues related to the “tekh osmotr” for my car. The tekh osmotr is basically a combination vehicle inspection and registration sticker that is affixed to the bottom right corner of the windshield. Mine was expiring on August 31, which is why it was so important to go through all the steps at once. Otherwise I would potentially be pulled over by traffic police and have to pay out hefty bribes to shut them up.
Obtaining, or rather passing to receive, the tekh osmotr involved essentially three steps: being approved to pay the fees, actually paying the fees, then acquiring the tekh osmotr sticker. But in order to get past the first one I had to determine where to go. Apparently you have to go to the city district administration building where you are “registered.” In other words, although I live in central Yerevan, the office for vehicle registration told us that I would have to go to the one in Malatia-Sepastia (aka, “Bangladesh”), since the car was originally owned and still “registered” in the name of one B. Torosian. When I bought my Niva it had not been legally registered to the previous owner, so I applied for a transfer of ownership title, which was expedited quickly since the notary clerk was a friend of Ariga’s. Thus, even though I live in central Yerevan and my Nalbandyan Street address is written on the title, the original vehicle “passport”—which is the size of and looks like a credit card—is in the name of the first legal owner of the car.
When we arrived at the vehicle registry office, there were about 100 people in line—all men—squeezed in a short, narrow hallway competing to be the next one to get into the office. I had handed the paperwork for the car to Ariga for some reason and a male clerk who happened to walk by came to our rescue by dragging her through the crowd, and she dragging me, to the front of the line. I’ll have to admit I felt bad for the guys packed in the corridor since I myself hate being cut in line. When we went there and I presented to the clerk my car “passport”—after first giving her my Armenian passport/visa, confused about which passport she was talking about—she shooed us away, telling us to go to the Malatia-Sepastia district administration building, near the “Bangladesh” open market (which probably resembles one of the rings of hell described in Dante’s Inferno).
Close to an hour later we walked into the place and found the vehicle registry office, which for some reason had no line for admittance. The clerk took the car passport, punched up some numbers on his computer, and then gave me an “official” stub with the number 8,000 written on it—the amount of the registration fee which we had to pay in an office around the side of the building. The office it turns out was a branch of the ASHB bank, actually an institution aimed to serve ordinary citizens, similar to a “savings and loan,” which used to be found in the US before now President George W. Bush played a role in a scandal that dismantled the entire system.
In any case, there were two lines—one for banking transactions and one to pay, or rather arrange to pay, the registration fee. There were two rows, each with about 20 people, all jammed together and competing to be the next one to approach the counter where the clerks were sitting. I made the mistake of asking the guard, who was just some guy wearing a worn-out uniform, if I was standing in the correct line, whereby he inquired if I was a citizen, had a social security card, and so forth. I told him that all I wanted was a yes or no answer, and then the argument started: “I’m trying to help you, why are you getting excited,” and so forth. During the hour and 10 minutes I waited in line I noticed that he argued with nearly everyone that came into contact with him.
Apparently, you can pay registration fees for all your buddies and family members at the same time. Nearly everyone in line before me was doing this. The fact that it took about five minutes in total for me to be approved to make my payments was proof of this fact. When I approached the counter we were asked if we also wanted to pay “ecological” and property taxes, which were about 1,300 and 6,000, respectively. I suppose some people choose to opt out of these payments but I decided to pay them as well. I signed three pages of receipts three times per page, then we were sent to the cashier’s window found down an adjacent corridor. I had to ask the cashier if I could make my payments since she was caught up in a conversation with someone who decided to visit her, thereby cutting me off at the window. Eventually she received my 20,000 dram note, then after 30 seconds or so threw my 4,000 drams in change back at me.
Then we were off to inquire about the tekh osmotr. Artur, who is the systems administrator at my place of work, told me to go to the office park across from the Hrazdan Stadium, adjacent to the roadway rotary. A small trailer at the far end of the park had a sign affixed above it reading “technical inspection” in Armenian, then below that tekh osmotr written in Russian.
According to a recent article published by ArmeniaLiberty.org:
Another source of illegal payments [bribes] is “technical inspections” which each of an estimated 250,000 cars registered in Armenia must undergo once a year. A special SAI [State Automobile Inspectorate] division is supposed to check their condition and safety standards, something which they rarely do. As part of the process motorists also have to submit medical certificates testifying to their good health and mental sanity.
For some reason during my day’s adventures no one indicated to me that I had to produce paperwork verifying my sanity and good health, so this statement comes as a surprise. I won’t comment whether I believe many motorists actually qualify to pass such tests, but their erratic driving shows that something is not quite right.
I waited about 10 minutes or so in line before I approached one of the two police officers sitting at desks, naturally not before some kind of VIP walked in and cut me in line to pay his bribe first. I sat in front of the good cop luckily—the other wasn’t too friendly or patient—and after inspecting my payment receipts quietly told me that I had other “fees” to pay. I asked him to tell me and he whispered “6,000.” I noticed that some people paid only 5,000 drams for some reason, but I wasn’t really in a position to argue with the man. He wrote some things on the inspection/registration sticker and sent us on our way to the bliss of tekh osmotr victory.
I’ll have to say that I do not really mind these administrative hassles, since it is interesting to compare them to the problems I had in Boston with license and registration renewal and so forth. Quite frankly, in retrospect my errands went smoother and with less hassles than similar ones in Boston—although the bureaucrats are for the most part the same types of people on both ends of the spectrum but speak different languages. I would like to see a more efficient and working vehicle inspection in place here, since there are so many cars on the road unfit for driving, but I don’t anticipate such an improvement anytime soon. Besides, there are many things more important to worry about, like government reform across the line and enforcing tax collection from the rich.
Labels: Bureaucracy and red tape in Armenia, Personal Experiences