Winds of change
Posted on October 3rd, 2020

Laksiri Warnakula 

The news about the Presidents’ surprise visit a few days ago, to the Narahenpita Office of the ‘National Housing Development Authority’ made me pen this short article. 

He is said to be following a complaint by a customer, who was told by the officers that they were short of staff. And the President not surprisingly though found it otherwise that they indeed had enough staff to fulfil their duties properly. This isn’t the first time that he has done this. He did few unannounced visits to some other government institutions before. I am not sure what came about subsequent to those visits: whether anything worth happened such as a visible attitudinal change of those government employees towards their customers. Or was it business as usual after the president left. I am sure it was. Reminds me of a scenario, where a teacher, a strict disciplinarian visiting a class of merry-making students, who suddenly become well-behaved and quiet on seeing the teacher. No sooner than the teacher leaves, they are back at their usual selves, behaving as before.  

No wonder. It is not an easy task to change ones’ work-culture/habits so quickly let alone in a matter of days. Practises that have been going on for decades cannot be changed overnight. Even the walls around those offices would speak up in protest for the change if they could. And as far as many of our government institutions and organisations that deal with the public, are concerned, the customer is a nonentity. In fact for many of those employees, the customer is a pain in the neck getting in the way of their otherwise important businesses that have nothing to with their duty. And that includes unofficial tea breaks, extended meal breaks, chit-chatting-over-the-phone breaks and as for the female employees a bit of nose- powdering and other similar grooming activities as well (how many times during their office hours, your guess is as good as mine).  

However, this is not to say that we do not have those duty conscious, customer-friendly government employees anymore. In fact we still do though their numbers are in rapid decline as can  be seen today.

There are many therapies that can treat this multi-faceted disease: indifference, having absolutely no idea regarding what customer service is all about, the failure to understand and be very conscious about fact that the customer is the one, who keeps their jobs and pays for their jobs, to mention a few.  

In my humble opinion, a full-scale computerisation is one way of reducing this lethargy, indifference and inefficiency, all of which are synonymous with the old-fashioned mentality and ways of doing clerical work, such as hard-copy-file keeping and their retrieval on demand, which is a painfully slow process from a customers’ point of view. Hard copies can be kept in archives, by all means, if necessary. Yet there should be data bases built into the system, where any relevant employee can log into it, access a customers’ file electronically and serve him/her without delay. So there is no need to have separate counters/tables manned by dozens of personnel dealing with only a specific set of customer-queries and other related issues.  

And before going any further, I must not forget our ‘used-to-be-then-ubiquitous office peon’. There was at least one in each and every office those days. And then their presence gradually declined, when machine began to replace man over time. However, they are still there, now in small numbers though, at some places, those figures usually clad-in-full-white, while being always kept busy by demands and needs of all above him: from shopping for bosses, tea-making to file locating and delivering to the appropriate tables, to mention a few.  And then and quite often too, he happened to be the unofficial liaison (the public were/are well aware of it. ‘Peonwa alluwanam hari. Wede ikmanata karaganna puluwan’. Talk to the Peon. He will get it done quickly). Offer plenty of oil to rub his palms and miracles begin to happen. The files that have been gathering dust somewhere and declared to be hard to locate and retrieve quickly suddenly make their way to the relevant table/counter in no time, as if by magic.    

And lastly Mr President please do not make any more jump on the gravy train for a free ride, which they do at the expense of the tax payer. In fact, you can ask many of them to climb down and assign/direct them to posts/locations, where they can do some productive work in return for their pay.  

I hope our President being a strict disciplinarian will be able to change the current work ethics and habits of many of the employees of our government organisations and bring in ‘refreshing winds of change’. 

Laksiri Warnakula 

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