Friday, May 22, 2009

Are our civil servants overly bureaucratic? Nah, these are just the minorities


Susan held the meeting door open as an alluring young lady walked in gently and slowly. Wearing a neat little black jacket with a tight and short black skirt, she smiled and bowed slightly as she walked towards the front of the meeting room, and stood next to Mr Teo. All the men in the meeting room were still gawking lasciviously at the young lady when Susan handed the wireless microphone over to Mr Teo.

MR TEO (clearing his throat): Gentlemen...

Mr Teo's voice pulled the men abruptly out of their daze. They then sat up straight and tried to look smart.

MR TEO (continuing): Gentlemen, we're very pleased to have Miss Keiko here with us. Miss Keiko is working for the Japan Department of Agriculture as a public relations officer. She is here today to share with us about her work and how we can foster good relationship with the public. Okay, let us give Miss Keiko a warm welcome!

Before Mr Teo could finish the word "welcome", all the men shook the room with thunderous applause. With a wild grin, Mr Teo handed the microphone towards Keiko. Sheepishly, Keiko took the microphone over from Mr Teo's open palm.

KEIKO (bowing slightly): Thank you, Teo-san. Good morning, everybody. I'm Keiko Yukari and I work for the Japan Department of Agriculture. I'm a public relations officer and my job is to talk to the public and understand their problems, so that I can help them. It's a very interesting job and I really love my job!

AH LIM (whispering to Ah Tan): Talk to public and listen to their stupid problems very interesting meh?
AH TAN (whispering back to Ah Lim): She's a Japanese what. Japanese gals can be amused by anything.

Keiko went on talking about her role and responsibility with the enthusiasm of a MLM salesperson who is selling a super water filter that can purify sewage water to a state which is fit for drinking.

ALI (whispering to Ah Tan and Ah Lim): Wah, the way she talks, machiam she loves her job so much its like a hobby like that!
AH LIM (whispering back): They must be paying her good money loh!

Keiko then paused and looked at Susan. Taking the microphone away, she muttered something to Susan, smiled and bowed slightly. Susan then walked to towards the wall and pulled down a white screen while Keiko plugged the projector's video cable onto a notebook. A few seconds later, Quicktime application appeared on the white screen. Keiko smiled and bowed slightly again to Susan to thank her.

KEIKO: I will now show you how we can improve our service quality and standards, okay?

With a few clicks on the notebook, a video was shown on the Quicktime application. It showed a woman sitting behind a desk with neatly arranged stationery. A man walked towards the desk and sat in front of her. He handed over a little piece of paper with a number on it and the woman then asked "Yes?". At that point, Keiko paused the video.

KEIKO: Ah, can anyone tell me what's wrong with the lady's response?

All the men in the room stared at her blankly, some even lasciviously.

KEIKO: She should have greeted the man, you know? Like 'Ohayou gozaimasu', or 'Good morning' for your country, oh but of course, 'Good afternoon' if it is in the afternoon! Hahaha... And after that, she must tell him 'Welcome' to her department, you know?

Keiko was nodding her head as she tried to search for any sight of acknowledgement in the crowd, where there was none.

AH LIM (whispering to Ah Tan and Ali): 'Good afternoon' still okay lah, but 'Welcome'? Serous or not? We're not some Japanese departmental store leh!

Keiko then clicked on the notebook to un-pause the video. The video continued with the man asking "I want to downgrade to a smaller flat." With which the woman answered with a question "Have you talked to any of our financial assistance staff?". The man then answered "No". "Okay, then you need to go upstairs and take a queue number. And you need to have your documentary proof of financial difficulty and monthly income of family members ready", said the woman monotonously in a single breathe. The man looked baffled but left anyway. At that point, Keiko paused the video again.

KEIKO: I'm sure now you can tell me what's wrong with the lady, right?

Again, all the men in the room stared at her blankly.

KEIKO: Oh, you can't tell? She did alot of wrong things yeh, very wrong. Firstly, she cannot answer his question with another question. That's very rude. She should first answer "Yes" to acknowledge his question, so that he knows that she understands him, yeh? And she cannot just ask him to go away, to go to another place by himself. It's very rude also. In my department, we will walk with our customers, and guide them to the correct place, so that they don't get lost.
ALI: Har? Apa ini? Still must bring them to the other department? Alamak, then we'll be too busy entertaining these people to do our work!

Keiko looked towards the direction of Ali. Ali covered his mouth and smiled at her sheepishly.

KEIKO: Yes Sir, do you have a question?
ALI: Eh... no, no. Sorry.
KEIKO (smiling): It's okay. But please feel free to ask me any question, yeh?

Ah Tan nudged Ali lightly with his elbow.

Keiko clicked on the notebook again to un-pause the video. The video continued with the same man going to the desk of another staff in another department, where he was asked some more questions before he was yet directed to another department, where his application was rejected because a piece of the required document was missing. In between, Keiko paused the video to ask more questions, only to be returned by yet more blank faces. But as polite as she could be, she would always provide the correct answer patiently with a sweet smile.

When the presentation finally ended, Mr Teo took over the microphone from Keiko, who again bowed slightly.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, I'm sure you've heard complaints that our public service's service quality is not up to standard. With such myriad of complaints deluging the various ministries, something has to be done. That's why we need to work with experts like Miss Keiko to train our customer facing staff and also continue to work with Quality Service Managers to improve the implementation of the 'No Wrong Door' policy. So gentlemen, please tell your guys not to apply for any leave for the next one month so that we could have full attendance for the trainings.

Some of the men scrambled into their pockets for their pens to take note as Mr Teo continued.

MR TEO: Another thing. Apparently some people thought that we are overly bureaucratic, but I'm very sure those they encountered are in the minority. I do not see anyone in this room who has a rigid attitude, do we?

ALL (almost together): No Sir!

MR TEO: See? These people are definitely talking without facts! Compared to how it used to be, we are now more understanding of the common people! Let's be practical. Of course officials need to follow policy guidelines, or else there will be anarchy! What is the purpose of us writing so many policies and guidelines when nobody is following?

Almost all of the men nodded in agreement, with a few still busy stealing stares at Keiko, who was standing attentively by Mr Teo's side.

MR TEO: Let me tell you what's really wrong. Those who approach government departments for help may already have in mind what kind of help they want. So when officials are unable to give these people exactly what they want, they think that these officials are inflexible! How ludicrous! So, next time someone accuse you of binding red tapes, tell them these red tapes are necessary to keep things in order!

All the men clapped to support what Mr Teo had said.

MR TEO: Okay, gentlemen, we've come to the end of today's session. Let's all give Miss Keiko one more round of applause!

All the men clapped again, with Keiko bowed slightly to the audience again. While everybody started to leave the room, Keiko walked towards Mr Teo.

KEIKO: Mr Teo, I'll be going over to the Ministry of Manpower tomorrow. Could I borrow that video to present to the staff over there?
MR TEO: Hmm... I don't think you could do just that because it's our internal video. You would need to write to MICA with a copy of this video and get their approval first. Oh, and when I said 'write', I meant with pen and paper, not email. You have to go down to MICA personally. And after that, you'll need to hand the approved video over to MOM's PR department for review. Only upon their approval, you could use the video for your next presentation.
KEIKO: Oh... I see... then I can use the video for presentation tomorrow?
MR TEO (chuckling): Hahaha... you must be kidding! You need to wait about 5 to 10 working days for MICA to approve, then another say, 3 to 5 days for MOM's PR to approve, and maybe the department you're going to present to may need another 1 to 2 days to review the video first. So that's about 12 days give and take.

Keiko stared at Mr Teo blankly.


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