Of coffee-breaks and sloths.


06.09.02

Kaunter ditutup sebentar, sila bersabar
-In this case, 'sebentar' turned out to be 3 hours.

I have refrained from updating because I try not to write when I'm angry, unless I do mean to rant, of course, in which case, angry is good. A lot has been said about our 'super-efficient' civil service lately. It's the season, I suppose- soon this will all be forgotten and Malay Mail and co. will move on to another 'errant' issue, my guess is 'phantom opposition voters' this time. I don't normally put much stock by the mainstream media- it's one of the few anti-establlishmentarian tendencies I cling onto in order to assuage my increasing apprehension at having to join the rat-race- but in this case, they might actually have a point, as I found out first-hand to the detriment of my blood pressure.

My cousin, who's just finished his A Levels and is now about to go off to Ireland to do medicine (finally, a doctor in the family! God-willing) had been promised a scholarship by a government body, let's call it the JPA shall we, should he be confirmed a place in university after his A Levels. Therefore, after he obtained his rather excellent results and was actually confirmed a place, you would expect that the scholarship would be confirmed as well, wouldn't you? Wrong. As is normally the case when dealing with the 'gomen'- expect the bloodily annoying, life-sapping, mind-numbing unexpected.

Therefore, what actually happened was that the poor guy (my cousin) was forced to re-apply (read: re-beg) for a scholarship 2 weeks before he was scheduled to register for a course. Now, anyone who knows anything about dealing with government agencies knows the sheer hopelessness of expecting anything to happen within these agencies in two years, much less two weeks, apart from idle gossip, coffee breaks which last an eternity and general work-avoidance- yes, I am bitter, but rightfully so. Anyway, after listening to the rants of my cousin and uncle (his father) for about 10 days I decided to go along for the hellish ride. (Well, what actually happened was that my uncle decided he might need reinforcements, a.k.a. my temper and mouth). So off we went- arriving in an ultra-sophisticated building in Putrajaya (with pass-cards to get through doors and automatic flushing loos etc), finally reaching the scholarships department.

Remember the sophisticated building? Apparently the sophistication didn't extend to the decor- much in evidence was your usual assortment of cloth flowers with those icky glue-drops masquerading as dew-drops thingies, broken chairs (in this case, expensive ergonomic ones- talk about work-related violence!), and the ubuiquituous 'Kaunter ditutup sebentar' signs, one of which I pilferred as a souvenir, muahaha *cue anti-establishmentarian laugh*. Of course, if the people working in such a heinous anti-Ikea environment were doing their jobs properly, I wouldn't actually be bitching about the decor. But they didn't, so I am. The place was filled with about 30 other kids and assorted parental units, some of whom had been waiting since early morning (it was 2 p.m when we got there). After informing the cleck-type at the counter that we wanted to see a certain officer, let's call him Zainal Abidin, because that's his name- we settled down to wait for two hours while said officer was being summoned from his inner sanctum, only to be informed after two hours that he was not in. Did I mention that we waited two hours to be told that he wasn't in? My usually polite and taciturn cousin made the observation that the people working behind the counters reminded him of five-toed sloths. Perhaps they were trapped in a much slower time-space continuum than the rest of the universe-considering the rate at which they seemed to be working- slower than the speed of snails.

Interesting fact: We had earlier seen our En. Zainal Abidin emerge from his office clad in a pair of selipar jepun at about 3.30, I suppose for prayers and yes, a coffee break, which then extended until the magical hour of 4.30 p.m.

We then requested to see another officer, let's call her...Pn. Maryana, whom my uncle and aunt had been dealing with(I was jotting down names for future reference), to be told by another clerk-type person, "Boleh datang besok tak dik, hari ni dia sebok la- budak-budak ni (the 30-odd kids milling about looking like they had been through a combination of the business end of an Isetan closing-down sale and the Federal Highway after 5 on a weekday) nak kena fly ke Indonesia besok- kami tengah siapkan financial guarantee diorang". At this point, several thoughts occurred to me, and I'm sure, to you too, provided you, like 99.9% of the human and ape population, had an IQ higher than George Dubya Bush's:-

1. Why were these kids only being given their financial guarantee letters the day before they were scheduled to fly off? Surely an organization with oh, decades, of experience in sponsoring students would know that the students would need those letters and surely their university places would have been confirmed at least a week before, thus reducing the ludicrous possibility of the department preparing (preparing, mind you, not just distributing) these affidavits the day before the students' flights?

2. Why was an officer also involved in preparing these affidavits when all she would really have had to do would be to sign them? Surely these decades of experience would have equipped the department with a standard template for these statements, instead of seemingly having to think up different designs and/or wordings for each statement at the rate of one statement per 15 minutes?

3. If the department was busier than Wall Street on Black Monday why were half the desks (and several counters) empty?

I suppose our group must have looked pretty mutinous by this time because the lovely Pn. Maryana finally condescended to meet with us. Now, my cousin had earlier given her and the Director of her department copies of his documentation, including the initial scholarship guarantee, about 2 weeks beforehand. These copies were , surprise, surprise- lost in the labyrinthine corridors of the JPA and 2 more copies were given. With the guarantee then, we expected my cousin to receive his scholarship offer letter. This of course, didn't happen. What did happen was that we were told by Pn. Maryana that "Anak encik baru apply minggu lepas(!), kita selalu mengambil masa 45 hari(!) untuk buat keputusan". Thankfully after our mouths had recovered from the schock of finding out that she hadn't even bothered to see, much less open my cousin's file we found ourselves telling the whole tired story of how he had already been guaranteed a scholarship 2 years before. Wonderful experience- I reccommend it to anyone wishing to raise their blood pressures to meteorological heights.

Thankfully, he's now been offered a full convertible loan (we must have looked sufficiently mutinous that day, plus I was muttering something about 'my father's best friend, the NST editor'). Which saved me the necessity of amok-ing in the pristine building in Putrajaya.

This is all of course, expected when dealing with government agencies, spanking-new buildings notwithstanding. Apparently, hi-tech, multi-million ringgit buildings don't hide the ridiculous, common-sense deficient behaviour of their inhabitants. What is it, I wonder? Is there some sort of test before one can join the civil service, in which one has to prove that one is utterly devoid of work ethics? This might be grossly generalising again, but surely people who work in magnificent offices paid for by our taxes should at least be a bit more professional when dealing with the same people who paid for these offices. After all, what customer doesn't demand his or her money's worth? We talk about 'paperless offices' and 'multimedia super-corridors' without actually realising that big dreams can be destroyed by petty realities.

'Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah'. HAH!

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