Friday, 24 December 2004

Stupidity begets stupidity

Yesterday, I rang Officer A of the Ministry of ABC. I’ve been dealing with the Ministry for close to one year to obtain information on their guidelines and conditions to obtain a certain approval. In the process, I’ve been given the run around between 3 different departments and numerous officers. Each time, the facts given, if it can be called that, are different. Nobody wants to admit that he/she is the officer that is responsible for processing such applications.

After exchanging pleasantries with Officer A, I proceeded to ask him questions on the issues that my boss had instructed me to clarify with him.

Me: The other day, my boss and our Japanese partners went to see Mr. B (Mr. A’s boss). Mr. B told them to refer to Document 9 and Document 10 for the Ministry’s guidelines and conditions.

Officer A: Err.. what documents?

Me: Document 9 and Document 10.

Officer A: What’s Document 9 and what’s Document 10?

Me: Document 9 is “Panduan bla bla bla bla bla” and Document 10 is “Panduan bla bla bla bla bla.”

Officer A: So what is it about Document 9 and Document 10 that you want to know about?

Me: I need to clarify on certain things mentioned in the documents. Firstly, are these documents applicable to the whole range of the products or only on product type XYZ?

Officer A: Why didn’t you ask Mr. B this question earlier when you saw him?

Me: I didn’t see him, my boss and our Japanese partners did. Anyway, at that time, they didn’t know the contents of the documents.

Officer A: What do the documents say?

I proceeded to read the first paragraph of Section 2.1 of Document 10.

Mr. A: It covers all types of products.

Me: Although only product XYZ is mentioned in Section 2.1?

Officer A: Yes.

He sounded so uncertain that whatever little confidence I had in him disappeared completely. His condescending tone didn’t help either.

Me: Are these documents official guidelines to the public or are they internal guidelines?

Officer A: I don’t understand what you mean. Are the documents available to you?

Me: Yes the documents are available to me. I don’t understand the question either, but my boss instructed me to ask you.

Officer A: Ask your boss whether these documents are available to him.

Me: Well, actually our Japanese partners asked my boss this question.

Officer A: Then ask the Japanese whether these documents are available to them.

Me: Err.. you know how they are… (foreigners are not a foreign subject to the Ministry).

Officer A: OK, let me ask you this question. Are the documents available on the Ministry’s website?

Me: Yes.

Officer A: Do you require a password to access the website?

Me: No.

Officer A: Can you access the documents on the website then?

Me: Yes.

Officer A: Then the documents are official documents available to the public.

Me: OK. Now, about the equity condition of s% mentioned in Document 10, is this applicable to all applicants?

Officer A: I think you should talk to Department Z about this. I don’t handle this.

Me: I was told your Department handles this.

Officer A: You must understand, Department Z processes the forms that you must fill in for each product. Mine gives the blanket approval for setting up of the business.

Me: My questions relate to the blanket approval.

Officer A: My Department does not impose any equity conditions. Equity condition is handled by Department Z.

Me: Tell me which officer I should talk to. I’ve been given the run-around from one department to another and now you’re telling me to go back to Department Z. I can tell you that they’ll ask me to refer to you. In fact I already spoke to an officer from that Department yesterday and she asked me to talk to you. I’m confused. Now please tell me which officer should I talk to?

At this time he decided to forego his condescending tone and metamorphose into a nice guy.

Officer A: These documents are on the Ministry’s website, yes?

Me: Yes.

Officer A: Where is it on the website? Which section?

Me: It’s at the bottom right of the main page, under ‘Work Process’. Underneath ‘Download Forms’ and ‘Day With Customer’.

Officer A clicked on ‘Day with Customer’.

Officer A: OK I’m in ‘Day with Customer’. Where do I go from here?

Me: No, not under ‘Day with Customer’. It’s under ‘Work Process’, which comes below ‘Day with Customer’.

Officer A: Where is it?

Me: On the main page, at the bottom right, there’s a section called ‘Work Process’.

Officer A: OK I’m going to the main page now… bottom right.. Work Process…

Finally he found it.

Me: Can you see a list of documents there? Documents 9 and 10 are somewhere in the middle of the list.

Officer A: Yes.

He opened the documents and read them for 20 seconds.

Officer A: These documents are not applicable for Q version of the products.

Me: But your boss, Mr. B told my boss to refer to these documents.

Officer A: Perhaps your boss didn’t tell him that your company would be selling the Q version.

Me: I’m quite certain he did.

Officer A’s condescending tone returned.

Officer A: I can safely put my neck on the chopping block that these documents are not applicable for Q version. But you can refer to it if you like.

Me: So which documents are applicable for Q version?

Officer A: We don’t have a document for Q version. But some of the conditions in Document 10 are applicable for Q version. Not the equity condition though.

Me: Which conditions are applicable?

Officer A: 2,3 and 4. And section 2.2 (on supporting documents) is applicable too.

Me: Who will approve the application?

Officer A: The top official of the Ministry.

Me: Is it your boss?

Officer A: If you consider my boss as a top official in the Ministry…

Me: Who is the top official in the Ministry? (trying very hard to control my temper).

Officer A: The Minister and the KSU (Chief Secretary) lar.

After the conversation, I wrote down the facts he gave me on a memo pad and left the memo pad on my boss’ desk, all the while wondering who’s more stupid, Officer A or me. Then I went to a meeting and spent the rest of the day there.

I pray that my boss will not ask me to obtain further clarifications from Officer A. If he does, I’ll tell him I’d rather die than talk to Officer A again. After all, the guy had already said he’s willing to put his neck on the chopping block. What else could I ask of him?

As I’m writing this, I get a call from my Director. My boss has already briefed him of the facts I wrote on the memo. The Director wants to know Mr. A’s level of seniority as the information he gave is very crucial in determining the progress of the project. I’m praying that the information he gave is accurate. Otherwise, it could be my neck on the chopping block.

Now, how do I obtain information about him?


Bustaman said...

Every department and sections in the department has a Client Charter (Piagam Pelanggan). These jokers must have forgotten what they are there for.

Yasmin's Mummy said...

Sometimes the piagam are there just for the sake of having it. It will be typed nicely, then filed someplace where nobody remembers it.
My experience with these people tells me that I'm expected understand their policies, and if I don't, I should seek advice elsewhere, not from them.