IN just a few months, the Immigration Department will move to Putrajaya. Among the improvements promised by Home Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Seri Aseh Che Mat is speedier processing of passport applications and renewals.
With more counters and machines coming into operation from mid-2004, people going to the Immigration Department would find it less of a chore. It is to be hoped that these ear-marked changes would not be delayed.
The importance of such improvements cannot be under-estimated. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also Home Minister, made a personal spot check of the Immigration Department early in his premiership.
How well the department does its work affects the lives of millions of Malaysians, regardless of background or standing. It also affects how Malaysia, through its people, connects to the rest of the world.
There is no doubt that more machines and more staff will mean better service, if only by eliminating delays and helping clear backlogs. With such advanced technology as chip-embedded passports, there should be no more excuses for poor service.
But brandishing advanced technology leads to a critical question: Is the quality of personnel recruitment, training, supervision and management on par with the technology? To avoid waste through under-utilised technology, the quality of personnel should also be upgraded and optimised.
Aseh has reported that public complaints at the Immigration Department remained at 5%, although this is still lower than the National Registration Departments 8%. The goal should be to work towards 0%, with zero tolerance for apathy, inefficiency and ineptitude.
If the promised improvements materialise later this year, they will be regarded as a welcome change. And if this keeps up, the Home Ministry may become a beacon for other public services agencies to improve as well.
But far from the ministry resting on its laurels, this only means that the other agencies need at least to catch up. It also means the ministry must improve in other areas under its purview. For example, Malaysians abroad also deserve to enjoy the fruits of such improvements. So what are the plans or projections of service upgrades in our foreign missions overseas, far from the new office complex in Putrajaya?
Non-Malaysians seeking to settle here or former Malaysians wishing to return have also had to wait for decades without knowing the status of their residency or citizenship applications.
There may also be foreign spouses qualified in areas where Malaysia suffers a shortage of human resource, but are not allowed to work while foreign expertise is sought elsewhere instead.
Criminal syndicates have also reportedly collaborated with rogue staff to forge identity cards and passports for sale. The departments concerned are not more immune to corruption than others, therefore constant vigilance is also needed.
The Home Ministry needs to work not only to avoid delays and clear backlogs, but also to shun anomalies, eliminate graft and streamline operations. This requires striving consistently with courage and imagination for the larger public good and in the greater national interest.
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