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Mexico rewards tales of red tape

President Calderón is leading a drive to make Mexico's government more efficient, starting with nearly $40,000 in awards for the best stories of bloated bureaucracy.

Red Tape blues: A man scanned a list of requirements last week for processing a passport posted in a government building in Mexico City.

Gregory Bull/AP

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Montserrat Contreras Castañeda had her eyes set on a job opening in Mexico's state attorney general's office, but first needed proof of residence for a competition that ended the next day.

A simple undertaking, she thought. But after an hour and a half in line, she found out that her identification alone would not suffice. She either needed three years worth of bank statements or could head to her local representative's office to seek another document to expedite the process. After more lines, wrong directions, and bureaucrats on lunch break, she made it back to the original line with the right paperwork under her arms. But it still was not enough: the process would not be over until someone visited her home within four days to verify that the mass of documentation was indeed valid. Needless to say, she didn't get the job. She couldn't even apply.

Welcome to the red tape that seems to wrap the whole of Mexico, turning the most mundane tasks – changing a sign outside a small business, obtaining a birth certificate, or reporting a stolen license plate – into megamissions.

Now Mexican President Felipe Calderón is trying to change all that. Ms. Contreras was recently awarded $7,500 for her troubles, as a winner in a government-sponsored contest to identify "the most useless procedure." It's an effort to turn Mexico's famously inefficient officialdom into a well-oiled machine – both for the sake of a saner citizenry and for a state hindered by processes that make it more prone to corruption and far less productive.

"We want a government that is economic and agile, where public spending does not get stopped in the morass of bureaucracy," says Salvador Vega Casillas, head of the federal comptroller's office. "Much of the paperwork serves no purpose, or is complicated and expensive. With the contest, we wanted to see complaints from the citizen's point of view."

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