KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi paid a surprise visit to the crowded Immigration Department here yesterday and promised it would be the first of more such checks on frontline offices of government departments.
Abdullah arrived at 9.33am at the department in Pusat Bandar Damansara, catching officers and staff by surprise.
Immigration officers at the entrance to the building quickly scrambled inside to alert their colleagues, momentarily forgetting about several foreign visitors whose arrival they were awaiting.Abdullah went straight to the passport application counters followed by his aides and a group of newsmen who had been told about the spot-check.
About 600 people, some who had been waiting since 5am for their numbers in the queue, jumped to their feet and applauded on seeing the smiling Prime Minister.
Abdullah shook hands with many of them and enquired about problems they faced at the counters. He also made stops at the counters and spoke to the staff manning them.
He later said he wanted to visit the passport application office at the department to see for himself the situation there.
“I was informed that there is always a big crowd here. I was told today that there are 600 people here but that this is not usual because it is the school holidays and people take the opportunity to settle their passport matters.
“Usually, there are between 300 and 350 people coming to the counters daily,” he said.
Among those who relayed their grouses to the Prime Minister was Laks Meyyapan, 37, a managing director of a company in New York.
Laks said he flew to Kuala Lumpur to renew his Malaysian passport because it would take him three months to do it at the Malaysian embassy in New York.
“The best thing is that here I can get it done in three days instead of three months. But the worst thing is that I have been waiting since 5am and I am still waiting for my turn at 11am,” he said.
Yap Choon Sang, 64, who came all the way from Bentong in Pahang to renew his passport, waited since 5.45am.
The ex-serviceman said he wished the department could do something about the long waits, which were unbearable.
“It’s good that the Prime Minister shows his concern and visit the counters,” he said.
Abdullah later held a 30-minute meeting with department director (security and passport division) Ab Rahim Ismail. Immigration Director-General Datuk Jamal Kamdi is overseas.
Speaking to reporters later, Abdullah said he told the department to find ways to reduce the long wait at its counters.
He said there were some immediate measures that could be taken, including giving priority to those who, at the end of the day, still could not be served because of the long queue.
“They must be given a number or a letter to allow them to be served first the next day to avoid them having to come a third day to have their matters attended to,” he said.
He also told the department to designate a counter to serve the disabled and old folks.
He said the special counter could still serve others.
Abdullah said Ab Rahim informed him that the staff worked overtime to ensure that passports were issued within three days – in accordance with the department's client charter.
The Prime Minister also said the department provided “emergency service” to those who needed passports or travel documents urgently.
The service, however, could not be extended in all situations because the department did not have enough manpower, he said.
On long delays for approval of documents, Abdullah asked the department to check files which had been pending for a long time.
“They should not be put aside without making any decision.
“I also told Ab Rahim to give attention to ways to ensure the best service even when the crowd is larger than usual.
“The test of a department’s capability is when it has to work under pressure or in a crisis situation or when the facilities or computers break down,” he said.