Demand better service – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Debbie Jacob -
Debbie Jacob –

WE NEED to demand better service from public servants. If we want Government to take any of our complaints seriously – including how this country deals with crime – then we need to take a stand and demand to be treated fairly, efficiently and with dignity at the ground level.

As long as we accept rudeness, poor service and the perpetual runaround from public servants, we send a message that our needs and expectations are not important. That feeling gets passed up the bureaucratic ladder and sends the message that we won’t stand up for anything – including the need to solve the crime problems we face. We are not holding Government accountable at the most basic level for the services we need to be happy, productive citizens and residents.

Public servants need to realise their jobs have three simple expectations:

1. Be kind

2. Be efficient.

3. Serve the public.

We need to realise that there is power in numbers, and we don’t have to take the rude behaviour and the constant runarounds dished out to us. Every time our expectations are not met in a government office, ask for the supervisor, make a complaint, realise it is probably not going to go further than that supervisor so reach out to a higher level of authority. Make formal complaints in writing at the highest level. Flood ministries with letters of complaint.

If every ministry got letters or e-mails from every disgruntled customer who butted heads against the public service every day, they would get the picture that we are not taking disrespect and incompetency any longer.

We have surrendered our expectations of a proper work ethic in our government institutions, and that feeling of apathy is being pushed all the way to the top so that no one feels our opinions or our needs matter. Elected officials take their seats for granted.

We complain bitterly, but we take no action. At least if we write letters of complaint, our feelings would be registered. On the surface this might not seem like much, but there are countries that take letters of complaint seriously, because public expectations are that governments are supposed to take them seriously.

Public servants have wrested the power away from us because they can say and do whatever they want. They set the lackadaisical, apathetic tone for this country. When they anger and frustrate us, they demoralise us, destroy our faith in this country and damage productivity. It’s difficult to be productive when we don’t have respect for our country’s representatives on the most basic level.

The public service is filled with sour, mean, sarcastic and discouraging workers. They often can’t be bothered to answer the phone, and when they do, they make excuses not to help us. They make a habit and a career out of losing letters and files. Immigration is infamous for this, and no one holds immigration accountable for lost files. I have been complaining about my lost file for 30 years now.

Of course some places surprise me. There are models of good service that should be praised. Many of the prisons I have to call manage fairly well. There are occasional appalling lapses in professionalism, but the Port of Spain Prison is a place that could give lessons in telephone etiquette and helpfulness.

I dread calling police stations. Police really need a crash course in people skills and telephone etiquette, yet the kindest, most helpful and uplifting public servants you can find in this country are the TTPS canine officers. Perhaps the dogs have humanised them. Whatever the case, they have telephone etiquette. The Ministry of Community Service is exemplary when it comes to service. Leave a message for someone and they will actually return the call.

For a few fleeting months after Government put us all in lockdown, public service seemed to improve, but that didn’t last long. It’s difficult to fathom how I can be reduced to feeling like a nuisance just because I picked up the phone and called a government office. Visiting a government office can be an even worse experience as workers shuffle around behind the counter and ignore waiting customers. The Licensing Office takes poor customer service to a whole new level.

The insulting, rank-pulling nonsense has to stop. Take action, and create a paper trail that can’t be ignored any longer. That’s the only way to put pressure on Government to make public servants work in this country.