Caught in bureaucracy

WHAT started out to be quite an exciting adventure for my four-year-old and the family, turned out to be quite the opposite. You see, my baby girl turns five in a couple of weeks — this also means it is time for us to renew her passport.

I renewed my passport online early this year and recalled it being quite a smooth and fast process.

Unfortunately, due to some technical concerns, I was unable to do Isobel’s renewal online, hence our little trip to the new Home Affairs Ministry complex situated in Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur.

I assumed it was going to be a breeze like my first encounter, I decided to make it a family outing. Silly me. After a few attempts on getting her passport picture right, we made our way there. We arrived early at the Immigration Department.

First, we had to stand in a long line to get our queue number. I think I was standing fifth in line.

It took me a good half hour to reach the counter. I told the lady that I was here to renew my daughter’s passport. She printed out a number for me.

I added that I had an amendment required on Isobel’s passport. She then redirected me to another room as my “case” needed to be investigated.

Feeling slightly alienated, we proceeded to a smaller office next door. Staying positive, I told my husband that there were fewer people in the next room, and hopefully, this would cut our waiting time in half.

After a few minutes, I got to speak to someone at the counter. I told Lady A that Isobel’s passport was up for renewal, but at the same time — there was an amendment to her name.

I showed her the original copy of her new birth certificate and MyKid proving the amendment (done by the National Registration Department located in the very same complex) and she told me that I had to obtain a letter from the people there, to state that an amendment was carried out.

Puzzled, I showed her the new documents as proof. Her answer baffled me.

“Oh sorry cik. Ini prosedur sebab takut ada yang palsu.” (Sorry Miss. This is the procedure as we are afraid of fraudulent documents.)

Staying calm, I asked her, “Shouldn’t your system be in unison with each other?”

“Oh tak… kita department lain..dia orang department lain.” (Oh no..we are from different departments.)

Perhaps I have watched too many thriller movies to see all information of an individual obtained effortlessly with the touch of a keyboard. I guess it only happens in Hollywood.

She then asked why the amendment. I told her my reasons and she told me to wait awhile as she needed to run it through someone I presumed was her superior.

So her superior, Lady B came in. Lady B questioned me, through Lady A (even though I was standing less than a metre away from her). To cut the long story short, I told her the amendments were carried out with permission granted by the court based on my divorce petition.

All this, while my four-year-old listened in on the conversation between Lady A, Lady B and myself in a less-than-discreet tone of voice, much to my chagrin.

My husband noticed my irritation and asked why the big deal, when in a normal passport procedure, the documents required are the birth certificate and/or identity card, which I had with me — and reasons for the amendment should not be their concern as we had already settled the matter with the Registrar Department.

Not wanting Isobel to see my annoyance, I quickly asked them to verify what was required and I would return with the necessary documents.

I was told to make two copies of Isobel’s birth certificate, MyKid, the front page of her passport and my IC as well as obtain a letter from the Registrar Department and to sign my ‘Declaration of Name Amendment’ on behalf of Isobel, in front of a Commissioner of Oaths.

We headed down to the department where we had made Isobel’s name amendments to request for the letter.

After waiting for half an hour for our queue number to be called, we were sent to another person who made us wait for another half-hour for our letter to be typed out. It took three of them to type out the one-page letter.

After about an hour, I finally got the letter, and headed to the Commisioner of Oaths who (rightfully) asked the reason for the amendment, to which I showed my divorce petition.

Two hours later, we were back at the Special Enquiry room but were met by a new officer. He went through all our documents, and asked the reason for the amendment.

By this time, both my girls were feeling restless, so hubby took over and explained in a hush tone (hoping that he’d get the message to use an appropriate tone when enquiring further), about our predicament.

“Oh….pindaan mengikut petisyen cerai eh? Kalau macam itu, saya perlu ada salinan petisyen cerai ini juga.” (Oh…changes based on your divorce petition? I’ll need copies of your petition too.)

I snapped.

“Tadi, colleague you tak cakap pun perlu salinan dokumen cerai saya? Lagipun, akuan pindaan nama ini saya sudah tunjuk dekat Commissioner of Oath tadi.” (Your colleague didn’t mention that I had to make copies of my divorce papers too. Besides, when signing the declaration, I showed the divorce papers to the Commissioner of Oaths.)

His answer?

“Oh. Commissioner of Oaths dengan kita tak ada kena mengena.” (Oh. We are not associated with the Commissioner of Oaths)

I lost it.

“Then why ask me to sign in front of a Commissioner of Oaths when you need to see the original proof and have a copy of it anyway?

“The whole process of me signing my declaration in front of a Commissioner of Oath is totally redundant then, right?”

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I congratulate the Government and the civil service for moving up five notches to 18th place in the World Bank’s 2012 Report on Doing Business.

But we could definitely strive to do better, from improving the basic quality of the civil service to eliminating the ‘form over function’ mindsets.

As Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye suggested, “Civil servants must continuously re-engineer and re-invent themselves with the focus on giving the best service to the public and must be sensitive to all public complaints”.

I am in total agreement to this.

Three hours later, Daphne managed to get Isobel’s passport done. Unfortunately, it will be ready in five working days, and not two hours as shown on a bunting outside. Daphne is on Twitter. Follow her rants on @daphCLPT

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