Don’t let red tape get you down
“Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape”. – Charles Dickens in “David Copperfield”
Dairy farmers are all too familiar with the constantly increasing burden created by government legislation, regulations and requirements that go hand-in-hand with running their dairy farming businesses. It can be bewildering, confusing, frustrating and, above all, extremely time consuming. Red tape is, however, a fact of life and knowing how to effectively deal with government departments is essential to save valuable time and energy.
The Business Dictionary defines red tape as the “Colloquial term for bureaucratic practice of hair splitting or foot dragging, blamed by its practitioners on the system that forces them to follow prescribed procedures to the letter. It gets its name from the colour of the ribbon used in tying government documents.”
The term “red tape” refers to filling out forms, obtaining licenses, filing and certification requirements, reporting, investigation, inspection and enforcement practices, and procedures.
The Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism conducted research into red tape and its reduction and in its “Red Tape to Red Carpet Strategy 2011 – 2015” explains it as:
- Non-essential procedures, forms, licences, and regulations that add to the cost of dealing with government, or
- Anything obsolete, redundant, wasteful or confusing that diminishes the competitiveness of the Province, which stands in the way of economic growth and job creation or wastes taxpayers’ time and money.
The following issues were identified as prevalent by businesses in their interactions with all tiers of government during the department’s research:
- Attitude of strict compliance rather than assistance by officials
- Lack of co-ordination among agencies and departments
- Lack of clarity about the government’s objectives, processes and time-frames
- Lack of transparency in decision-making
- Inconsistency in interpretation of rules
- Disconnect between regulator and business
- Lack of accountability and ownership of decision-making.
Here are a few pointers to help dairy farmers cope with red tape:
- Stay up-to-date with regulations
To stay informed is a golden rule in this instance. You don’t need to be an expert, but it is a good idea to at least know your key responsibilities with regard to applicable rules and regulations. Make use of the formal structures within the agricultural and dairy sector such as Agri SA, the Milk Producers’ Organisation (MPO), the South African Milk Pocessors’ Organisation and Dairy Standard Agency (DSA). A phone call or an e-mail to the relevant organisation can make your life considerably easier. Facts and information on compliance with a variety of government regulations and requirements are regularly published in the MPO’s weekly electronic newsletter, The Dairy Mail and on the websites of the above organisations and relevant government departments.
- Get organised.
Keep a paper trail by making notes of important conversations, sorting out records, filing paperwork and making sure you can find everything. If you let the paperwork pile up you risk wasting precious time in the long run and incurring penalties for failing to comply or making mistakes. Even five minutes first thing every day will help you stay on top of things and means you can spot any issues early on.
- Focus on what’s important
Dairy farmers’ busy schedule makes it essential to prioritise. Plan well in advance in line with important deadlines like VAT payments or licence renewals, and you’ll feel more in control. Stick to your schedule
- Do your homework
Start the process well ahead to ensure that you don’t run out of time. Research what exactly is required from you, acquaint yourself with the process and the different documents which need to be completed and the relevant time-frames. Now you are ready and organised to face the challenges of red tape.
- Be thorough
The devil is in the detail. Focus on getting the process right the first time. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. This will mean you will need to understand the finer details of the application and the implications of the answers you provide. An incorrect answer may result in extra ongoing work.
- Be respectful
Treat the person you are dealing with with respect and friendliness and you might be pleasantly surprised by the service and assistance you receive.
- Expect set backs
You may think you have all your ducks in a row when a new requirement is added unexpectedly. If you have ticked off the points above, chances are that you will be fast-tracked when you return.
- Be persistent
Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Be determined and persist until you get the resolution you require.
- Call in an expert
Create breathing space by getting an expert to help with sticky issues such as finances, employment contracts and wage negotiations.
- Adopt new technology
Explore the possibilities of saving time and money by using new technology such as accounting software packages which can go a long way towards making your farming enterprise more streamlined and efficient.
Follow these guidelines and hopefully your next encounter with ‘red tape’ will be less painful and steal less of your entrepreneurial time.