Effective bureaucracy can serve to ensure an administrative process runs smoothly. From schools to local councils, institutions need rules and regulations to maintain some degree of societal order. But problems often arise when those enforcing the rules become tangled in a web of their own red tape.
SEE ALSO: 10 Screwups That Changed The Course Of History
Some of the more subversive pencil pushers also have a nasty habit of making more bureaucracy to justify their existence. Simple requests can turn into endless form filling. Common sense solutions are rejected in favor of some Kafkaesque run around. And law-abiding citizens are put through the wringer for complying with the rules. Adding insult to injury, many of the people responsible for this tedium demonstrate not only a lack of compassion but also competence.
So let’s take a look at just 10 occasions when bureaucrats screwed everything up.
In December 2018, a Canadian theatre hosted a play called “Conversations avec mon pénis”. The event’s organizers wanted to focus on the “male condition” and the “conflicts between impulsion and what you have in your head.” At one point, the main character has a heated argument with his penis, which is played by a woman dressed in a giant penis costume. The man then tries to relieve his anxiety with a cigarette. But two Quebec health inspectors took exception to the scene. It turns out that while the phallus was deemed perfectly acceptable, the cigarette was not. The inspectors slapped the theatre with a $500 fine for showing one of its actors smoking.
Quebec City has very strict anti-smoking legislation. The theatre’s general manager, Marc Gourdeau, contested the decision on the basis that the cigarette was filled with harmless sage – not tobacco. A spokesperson for the Health Department disagreed: “All products, whether they contain nicotine or not, that are destined to be smoked are considered to be under the tobacco law.”
Gourdeau had no choice but to drop the fake cigarette from his play.
The United Kingdom has recently experienced a dramatic rise in knife crime. The Island nation has seen an astonishing 80 percent rise in knife crime since 2014. More recently, London has seen over 15,000 knife crime offences in a single year, representing a record high for the beleaguered city. So it should come as no surprise that officials are frantically looking for solutions.
In 2018, Luton Crown Court Judge Nic Madge recommended banning knives that are too pointy or too long. He argued that sharp, eight-inch knives were unnecessary in a domestic setting. The judge went on to propose special facilities where members of the public would modify their knives. “It might even be that the police could organize a program,” explained Madge, “whereby the owners of kitchen knives, which have been properly and lawfully bought for culinary purposes, could be taken somewhere to be modified, with the points being ground down into rounded ends.”
The judge’s ideas are starting to gain traction. In 2019, various members of Parliament, university lecturers, criminologists, and the Church of England published an open letter to the government. The letter, entitled “NO BLOODY POINT,” recommended an overhaul in the design of kitchen knives. “Research undertaken by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch showed that rounded knives had significantly less penetrative capabilities than pointed knives”, the letter opined. “Round-ended knives can still cause slash type wounds, but they are far less likely to be life threatening.”
Clint Walker was accused of murdering a security guard at a trailer in 2017. The 25-year-old Texan is said to have shot and killed the guard during a botched robbery. Two years on, he was allowed out on a $100,000 bond and ordered to wear an ankle bracelet monitor. He was also supposed to pay the bracelet provider (Guarding Public Safety) for use of his monitor. But the contractor took an unusual step after noticing that Walker had stopped issuing his monthly payments. A company representative discovered Mr. Walker’s whereabouts and physically removed the monitor. The accused murderer was then allowed to walk around, untracked, for two weeks.
Harris County officials were not happy. District Attorney Kim Ogg said the incident was the result of a “troubling loophole.” The county immediately terminated its dealings with Guarding Public Safety and shifted the remaining contracts to different companies. Meanwhile, the authorities detained Walker and revoked his bond. As for why Walker was given bond in the first place, the district courts refused to say.
“Have you had a muffin today? I wanna die, die, die. Please, I wanna die, die, die.” These were the lyrics blasted out in the playground of a primary school in South London. Each day, the youngsters at West Dulwich are given the opportunity to select one of their own songs, which is then played during the lunch break. In October, one student opted for “The Muffin Song.” The YouTube video shows a dancing muffin who expresses the urgent desire to commit suicide. “Hey, somebody kill me,” sings the joyous muffin. “Please, it’s muffin time.”
A concerned parent complained that the school had broadcast an inappropriate song to vulnerable children. A spokesperson for the school said one of the students requested the song and must have heard it at home. “It was not parental advisory or explicit, if it was it wouldn’t have been played,” stated the spokesperson.
The school has now vowed to screen the songs more stringently. The faculty has also banned the suicidal muffin’s catchy song.
The bodies of a young couple were discovered along a remote stretch of highway in British Columbia in July 2019. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) quickly set to work. During a live-streamed press conference, Police Sergeant Janelle Shoihet appealed for information surrounding the double homicide. The pictures of the victims were prominently displayed during the presser. But, much to the shock of the stream’s viewers, the sergeant suddenly sprouted whiskers and a pair of pink cat ears.
While attempting to broadcast the conference via Facebook, the cops accidentally left the cat filter on. The audience quickly informed the police of their embarrassing gaffe. “Yes we are aware and addressing it as it’s an automatic setting. Thank you, we will rectify and issue a video shortly,” explained the RCMP on Twitter.
A similar incident occurred in June when Pakistani politician Shaukat Yousafzai attempted his own stream. While Yousafzai spoke to members of the press, his social media team accidentally enabled the cat filter setting. “I wasn’t the only one – two officials sitting along me were also hit by the cat filter,” argued Yousafzai.
In 2018, a council in England accidentally tried to sue its own finance department. Waveney District Council detected that £718.20 (around $800) had not been paid for business rates associated with the Nicholas Everitt Park Trust. This resulted in the council sending a summons letter to itself. They also inadvertently hit their colleagues in finance with a summons charge of $77.
According to the council, the summons was caused by an automated process. “Of course, this makes a really good headline and we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t slightly embarrassing,” stated a representative for the council. But the representative argued that the mistake was relatively trivial, costing little more than the price of a stamp. The council withdrew the summons and corrected the trust’s business rates.
The Waveney Labour Group Leader Peter Byatt accused the council of lacking the “human touch.” He continued: “Let’s just hope that this is an isolated incident and we are not going to find Waveney District Council suing themselves on similar petty matters in the future.”
With hundreds of newcomers arriving each week, the illegal immigrant crisis continues to place considerable strain on Italy’s already delicate economy. Most of the migrants pay human traffickers thousands of dollars to cross the Mediterranean illegally. To reach Italy, the smugglers typically disembark from the coast of Libya.
Given that thousands of migrants have died attempting this voyage, the people smugglers have gained a notoriously bad reputation. So the people of Italy were stunned by the revelation that their own intelligence agencies were unwittingly working with the infamous people trafficker Abd al-Rahman Milad. According to the United Nations, Milad (a.k.a. Bija) is a coastguard commander with a violent past. He is suspected of abusing migrants and using firearms to sink migrant boats.
In 2017, Italian intelligence officials conducted a face-to-face meeting with members of the Libyan coastguard. Milad was in attendance. He even asked the officials for money to fund migrant reception efforts in Libya. Nello Scavo, the reporter who exposed the meeting, expressed his confusion: “It seems really strange the Italian intelligence was not aware of Bija’s identity. It is difficult to believe they were distracted.”
The authorities in Libya issued an arrest warrant for Milad in October 2019. Milad, who is suspected of drowning dozens of migrants at sea, remains a wanted man.
In 2013, the Pentagon decided to mothball a dozen $50 million cargo planes, many of which had only just come off the production line. The Department of Defense could find no use for the new C-27J Spartans, so they sent them directly to Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (a.k.a. “the boneyard”). Since 2007, the Air Force has exhausted over $560 million on 21 C-27J planes. Most of the aircraft initially ended up in storage.
Alenia North America continued building additional C-27Js that were already in production. The U.S. Air Force decided it was cheaper to finish building the planes than to immediately scrap them. Budgetary constraints also played a significant factor. The C-27Js were considered more costly to operate in the long term than the C-130 cargo planes. Curiously, the Air Force was almost forced to buy even more C-27J planes to fulfill spending commitments. Officials at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were even on the lookout for potential vendors. Seeing sense, Congress halted any further spending.
This particular story has a happy ending, though. The idle C-27J planes were eventually snapped up by the U.S. Coast Guard and Forest Service. Most of the C-27J planes were repurposed by 2017. Some of the aircraft have already been put into action, performing search and rescue missions and hurricane relief efforts.
The Lancaster School District in California has an unusual way of tackling suicide. In October, students at New Vista Middle School were given ID badges with the telephone numbers of several important resources. But when students rang the suicide prevention hotline, they were greeted with the following alluring message: “Hey there, hot stuff. I’ve been waiting for your call.” The message then went on to ask the caller whether they wanted a “sex pic.”
The school released a statement explaining the gaffe. “The phone numbers have two digits transposed and this is a mistake. The number listed on the card is actually a sex line,” read the statement. The school issued an apology and replaced the ID badges with the correct phone number. The owner of the sex hotline helped the school by redirecting the calls to the suicide prevention line.
In 2017, FEMA attempted to direct victims of Hurricane Irma to a helpline for assistance with roof repairs. The number, which was posted on the agency’s Region 4 Twitter account, was actually a hotline for phone sex. “Welcome to America’s hottest talk line. Guys, hot ladies are waiting to talk to you,” explained a rather persuasive hotline employee. The tweet was quickly deleted.
A retired engineer had his property seized for failing to pay $8.41 in property taxes. In 2011, Uri Rafaeli purchased a house in Southfield, Michigan. His plan was to rent out the property to help pay for his retirement. But Rafaeli had mistakenly failed to pay $496 for his first year’s property tax. All further payments were issued successfully. He also attempted to settle the underpaid $496, but made a slight error in calculating the interest owed. This led to an underpayment of just $8.41.
Oakland County took a somewhat uncompromising approach. It seized the retiree’s 3-bedroom property and auctioned it off for $24,500. Rafaeli originally paid $60,000 for the house, meaning the council earned less than half of what it was originally worth. Rafaeli is taking the case to the Michigan Supreme Court. His attorneys argue that Oakland County is violating the United States Constitution by taking the surplus equity of their residents’ homes.
The rapid foreclosure and auction of properties is common throughout Michigan. The state implemented legislation in 1999 to ensure houses were quickly reused in the event of non-payment of property tax. The property owner is also forced to pay interest and administrative fees for any underpaid amounts. The money earned from this process is then funneled into a delinquent tax revolving fund (DTRF).
Campaigners believe the scheme represents an underhanded attempt to balance the budgets of failing counties. In doing so, the authorities are preying on the misery of homeowners. Between 2006 and 2015, Oakland County alone made over $20 million from auctioning foreclosed properties.
Cass County officials in Minnesota discussed foreclosing a $3.5 million property, a day after the payment deadline had elapsed. Treasurer Linda Irwin said she was “tickled pink” at the prospect of foreclosing the property. It turned out that the owner had not received the letters about the underpaid property tax. When the owner offered to pay the outstanding tax, the county rejected the money.