The government institutions most travelers are likely to come into contact with are immigration, customs, and police. Immigration and customs generally treat foreigners fairly, but Argentine police are notoriously corrupt. The capital’s Policía Federal is generally better than provincial forces, particularly the Buenos Aires provincial police—a “mafia with badges” that is often involved with illegal activities. Its members are infamous for shaking down motorists for bribes for minor equipment violations.
The politicized bureaucracy remains one of Argentina’s most intractable problems, thanks to the continuing presence of ñoquis (ghost employees) at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. While abuses are less extreme than in the past, when individuals often drew multiple paychecks without performing any work whatsoever, bloated state payrolls are still cause for concern.
While the privatizations of the 1990s reduced federal-sector employment by nearly two-thirds, they had little impact on the provinces. Provincial payrolls still include well over 1 million Argentines in what, for the most part, might be more honestly called positions rather than jobs. For the tourist, it may be gratifying to find an obscure museum open 60 hours per week, staffed by three people, but the cumulative economic impact of such practices has been catastrophic.
In practical terms, the absence of a professional civil service means a lack of continuity, as officials lose their jobs with every new administration; continuing political influence means an abundance of uninterested and often ill-qualified officials who take their time dealing with any but the most routine matter. It also means, of course, nepotism and corruption—Argentina consistently performs poorly in Transparency International’s (www.transparency.org) annual survey of perceived corruption. In 2006, Argentina ranked 106th of 180 countries surveyed (the highest rating indicates the least perceived corruption), tied with several African countries and just ahead of Algeria.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition