Tuesday, March 07, 2006

service with a smile? what smile?

i don't write social/economic/political commentary pieces. despite being the daughter of a man who was very much involved in all those fields, i don't have enough interest to read up and equip myself with the knowledge necessary to tackle anything close to "serious". besides, 21-yr-olds all over malaysia already have vincent to go talk serious stuff in the blogosphere on our behalf.

however, i can't let this one go.

i was at the mppj office today to renew my dog's license. having waited close to 30mins at the hq just to pay the RM10 required, i was frustrated to find out that i had to go 5 blocks across the road to the mppj building to collect the license itself. the cashier told me it was because last week, there was a long line of people waiting to renew their licenses at the hq and they felt rather shorthanded. so they gave the task of giving out the licenses to their neighbours.

pretty idiotic if you ask me. while i believe they didn't mean to make our lives miserable on purpose, it is ridiculous to make people pay in one building, then drive/walk 500m to collect what they paid for in a different building. shorthanded or not, that is not a very wise way of increasing efficiency. actually makes people far more disgruntled and more unsatisfied.

anyway, my mum and i went over to the mppj building. i took the lift up to the 16th floor, walked into the collection office...and saw about 10 people cramped in a tiny office, in two lines, leading to two open counters.

the funny thing was...there were chairs in that tiny office, which made it even tinier. and to make it worse, no queue numbers were given out, forcing the people to stand in line while waiting for their turn. so much for the chairs, huh?

one woman in the line looked clearly uncomfortable. she carried a tote bag in one hand and her young daughter in the other. the arm cradling her child got pretty tired and she had to let the girl go several times while she adjusted the weight of her bag. the little girl cried every time she was released from her mother's arm. the woman seemed to age years in the 15 minutes i waited in line with her. she was tired, but she couldn't sit with her child on her lap because there were no queue numbers.

when her turn finally came, she told the officer on duty about her plight. turns out that for the last 2 years, a restaurant operator has been using her home address as the mailing address for bills and business registration. as a result, the license renewal notices have been sent to her house instead of the restaurant operator's address.

it was a small mistake with numbers. her house was no.108 while the restaurant was no.018. it was a small mistake that has caused her two years of pain. the bills and license notices kept coming for 2 years. she's travelled to the mppj office countless times, pleading for help. she's written countless letters. she lives 40mins away from pj and everytime she comes to mppj, she has to bring her small children with her.

i could tell she wasn't very well-educated. the officer on duty explained that she has to photostat more copies of the documents she's brought, that she has to write more letters explaining her problem clearly, that her last few letters and the documents she last sent them weren't explicit enough for them to fully understand so they couldn't take proper action.

so there you have a middle-aged woman with young kids. she looks like she comes from a middle-income family. she has to take a 40min taxi ride every time she goes to mppj for help. even without the petrol price hike, God knows how much she has to fork out for every trip. when waiting in line, she can't even sit down while waiting for her turn. and all the officers can tell her is "write more letters, do more paperwork, then come back again. we can't do anything for you because you haven't filled in forms A, B1, B4 and C2."

she couldn't even voice her frustrations because the people waiting in line behind her were clicking their tongues on their teeth impatiently with every passing second.

i happened to get into the lift the same time she did. her face was worn with exhaustion and her voice was weary as she told me all her worries. i wanted to call my mother and ask her to go home first so i could stay and help this woman get her paperwork done so she'll never have to worry about the bills, licenses and restaurant operator who wouldn't cooperate.

but i didn't. and somehow i can't really forgive myself for doing that.

it's such a bitch to have to do paperwork when you're clueless. i know because i've been through it before. i'm just fortunate to have parents who have worked long enough with the government to know just what kind of paperwork they need and what kind of urging needs to be done to get things done.

but what about the people who don't know? what happened to caring customer service? we're kidding ourselves when we say we're a caring society. service with a smile. i didn't see anyone smiling when i paid for my dog license. the guy behind the counter didn't smile or even try to reassure the woman when she went to him for help.

while the government talks about helping the lower working classes by doing this and doing that, the most basic thing everyone needs but doesn't get is the reassuring feeling that yes, we are really being helped because we are cared for. how can anyone trust anyone who doesn't exactly express their concern?

lishun at 2:53 PM