WHEN it comes to services provided by the public sector, few of us long to have a peek behind the curtain to see how it is done. Details of the processes, procedures and supply chains seldom interest us. What matters most to us is the quality and speed of the services, and that we get solid value for our tax money.
That is when things are working well, which is what we expect always.
But when the public services delivery system sputters and stalls for days or even weeks, and we are starved of proper explanations and sturdy assurances, it naturally attracts curiosity over what could have gone wrong.
At a time like this, the best thing to do is to be open and transparent, even if people are not particularly excited to know about the operations at the back of the shop, so to speak. It is important that the public understands well what it is that has caused their inconvenience and frustration.
The Immigration Department’s current shortage of new passports is an example of a situation that cries out for clarity and action. And it is not even a new problem.
People have been complaining of difficulties in getting passports for at least three months.
Many have been turned away because the Immigration Department does not have enough stock to meet the demand.
Travel plans have been wrecked and much time has been wasted waiting in queues.
To improve their chances, people are forced to go to the department’s office hours before it opens.
And all this while, the reasons and statements offered seem sketchy and inconsistent.
At times, the blame falls partly on the holiday and haj seasons. At other times, there is talk of technical glitches and supplier problems.
In June, the department denied there was a passport shortage but said there were delays in issuing new passports due to “enhanced security features”.
However, last week, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi ordered more passports to be produced and sent to the department’s offices, which confirms the shortage.
Yesterday, The Star reported that the Government had ordered the company appointed to supply passports to buck up or face action.
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said the long queues at passport counters around the country were not the fault of the Immigration Department but that of the vendor that has failed to meet demand.
So it looks like things are moving along and perhaps the complaints will finally die down. But this is a learning opportunity as well.
What exactly triggered this passport shortage and how do we ensure it does not happen again? Part the curtains and let us all at least gain a lesson from this unpleasant episode.
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