It is a sad facet of our public administrative system that most bureaucrats maintain a deafening silence when any member of the public sends them a letter of inquiry or complaint. Today with so many formats of political administration ranging from provincial councils, to municipal and urban, the same attitude is maintained by their public servants too. In fact the word public is fast becoming a misnomer for it appears that many of them from the lowest to the highest is just not bothered the public though their salaries are met by the taxes paid more often than not by consumers through indirect taxation.
In the time of the late President Premadasa it was mandatory for public officers to at least to acknowledge a letter and state in a cryptic statement that the matter would be attended to. Often one never heard about it after that but at least the writer who paid for the postage, sometimes even sending a registered letter felt for a moment, a sense of euphoria that someone had read the letter and the request was being seen to.
Unfortunately that situation does not occur today; requests, complaints, and inquiries are ignored as if those in the higher echelons of administration are perpetually occupied with more important matters! Essentially they seem to be more involved in mundane matters of working for political causes! Even telephone calls are ignored. If an electricity failure occurs and one calls the relevant regional office the phones emit the engaged tone; then when the electricity comes on, lo and behold, as if by magic the phones work!
In other situations which are peculiar to our hi-tech development is that general telephone lines of Ministries and Departments are well nigh impossible to get. If you do after innumerable rings, get an answer and enquire if you could speak to the head of the section, or one of his deputies, you are generally requested to hold on and one does really hold one while the telephone operator apparently is searching for the relevant individual and then after that long wait he comes back on line, saying that so and so has gone to the Ministry or for a conference or whatnot. Occasionally the call is directed to a subordinate officer who promises to give the message or to a PA who would as occasion has it, be polite and give you a relevant answer. Meanwhile, while all these delays are taking place your telephone bill will finally show the amount you had to pay for just an enquiry!
"One does really hold one while the telephone operator apparently is searching for the relevant individual and then after that long wait he comes back on line, saying that so and so has gone to the Ministry or for a conference or whatnot "
Call centres have also come into being and one cannot get the information that may be specific because call centre operators repeats the same computerised information. This reminds me of a story of how an Irishman had taken a call to his township in Ireland to delay the burial of his mother till he came for the funeral. The call went to a call system located in some other country, which was requesting that he presses keys one, two three etc. without enabling him to give his message. Finally in exasperation he phoned the Chairman of the call centre company and that gentlemen with profound apologies passed on the relevant message, enabling the Irishman to attend his mother’s burial! We too in Sri Lanka with our new communications technology have got hooked onto this system too and often that means that a considerable number of telephone calls have to be taken before the barest information is received.
Pensioners’ tensions have increased due to the lackadaisical attitude of bureaucrats and call centre high-techs - perhaps they should retire to bed and listen to the amusement provided by radio advertisements. There is one in which a lady perhaps from the previous elite or the new rich walks into a store requesting for a brand of chicken. The salesman offers her another brand which he says is equally good and the lady replies in highly elocuted tones ‘Have you gone cuckoo?’ One wonders what the salesman made of her reply! The selfsame lady again on an advertising spree visits her grandson who happens to be having a soup made from the brand of chicken she prefers and she prattles to the infant (never forgetting her elocution lesson!) a long story about how when her daughter was pregnant she always gave her that particular brand of chicken though her daughter reminds her that the infant will not understand a word of what she is saying!
Meanwhile the banks continue advertising the various advantages one can gain by banking with them with vehicle leases offered over the counter ( don’t get fooled by them cause they don’t give leases - not for the old car you have! Similarly on the requirements of travelling on the expressway you have to have brand new SUV’s or whatever!) And then there is a well known figure speaking of the advantages of having a visa card, you may try to locate the seldom used card you have but you will never be able to match his prowess of obtaining credit facilities, etc. etc.! By this time perhaps you would have gone off to cuckoo land and forgotten your anxieties!
The most contagious malady not only of the public service but also other institutions said to deal with the public is the indifference to letters or other forms of communication sent. There is not even an acknowledgement leave alone meaningful action.They should be taught that they are not the bosses of the public but it is the other way about. Good number of public servants resent the word servant. Why not appease them if it will help in their service to the public.
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