Passport woes, pt.1
I am writing this letter on behalf of us, the Bahamian people, in the spirit of constructive criticism and with suggestions for improving the woeful Passport Office experience. I am certainly thankful that this is but a once-every-10-years’ occurrence because my recent experience was a two-day, seven-hour debacle.
Preparation: I made my way to the Passport Office late one afternoon last month, but was told to come back the following day because the quota had already been met for the day – okay, that was understandable. Before leaving, I asked for an application form (seeing as the online website I had used was probably not up to date) and was told to get that information from the office at the front of the building – no problem. Armed with these papers, I decided to return the following week after half term was over, as apparently persons had been lining up with their school-aged children from as early as 5 a.m. every day that week in order to get their passports.
The following week, Day 1: I arrived at the passport office at 7 a.m. to renew my e-passport with documents in hand as outlined on the information form I had taken away the week before. There were still a few parking spaces available and a good crowd was present. After trying to find the end of the non-existent line, I inquired of one of the persons what the procedure was and he indicated I was to make my way through the haphazard mass of persons standing around to get to the lady by the door with the pad of paper and put my name on the “list” – which I did, moving back into the crowd afterward thinking that was a positive sign since at least a record was being kept of the order of who came when.
Amongst the ever-growing crowd, there were a few lucky souls who had found a place to sit on one of the only two narrow rickety wooden benches on site that had no back support. Well, at least many of us were squeezed under a canvas cover and there was a cool breeze blowing.
I was glad I had brought the daily paper to read since there was nothing of interest to keep one’s attention as we stood outside patiently waiting, and waiting, and waiting, during which time I surveyed the area and thought: Why aren’t there any seats (with back support) allocated for senior citizens? Why aren’t there any signs explaining the procedure (seeing as they had a locked cabinet attached to one of the walls that was quite empty but it should contain a check list of what documents one should have so as to make sure your papers were in order before being processed)? What was supposed to happen next? Why aren’t the hours of operation (that are missing on the door) displayed?
The hours ticked by with office members coming out the door at intervals to shout out names listed on the pieces of paper from that pad I had signed, and letting persons inside, whilst the defense force officer manning the door attempted to keep the entrance area clear at intervals.
Time ticked on and the crowd hardly moved. At one point one of the office members came outside to say that there were no more seats inside, but she would call out names from the list in order, asking to see what type of passport the person had in his or her possession, which she then wrote next to their name – my name was one of those – and they started handing out numbers in sequence that ended up in the 50s. (That sounded hopeful – at least some progress was being made). Then they called the names of the “mothers of first-time babies” and several of those were let inside after having stood outside, babe in arms along with their baby bags and other accoutrements, a few being lucky enough to find a seat.
Also, during this time closer to 10 a.m. any new person who came to the door was told to come back the following day as the Passport Office had already filled its quota for the day, and many of us were still standing outside. I gratefully was able to find a space on the bench as persons went inside, but since the bench sunk down at the back against the wall underneath the empty cabinet, I decided it was less hazardous to stand, which most of us continued to do.
Lo and behold around 11 a.m. (four hours later) an office member came back outside to inform us that all those waiting outside could not be seen that day, and should come back tomorrow.
Needless to say, that announcement did not go down well. I for one found it totally unacceptable and voiced that view strongly, asking to see the supervisor. After four hours standing up, with my name on a list, and with five hours still remaining in the work day for passport office staff – to be told to go home and come back – they could not be serious! We were flabbergasted by this nonchalant attitude and disregard for customer service. Some citizens said that they had been told that the day before and now that would mean they had to take time off from work for a third day to come and wait, with no guarantee of being served yet again.
Yes people, this is how we are treated in our own country by our “civil service” that in many instances lacks civility (training in politeness and courtesy) – and we, stupid people that we can be, allow our own people to treat us with this “too-bad-too-sad, lack-of-apology, no-caring attitude”.
After much disgruntled dialogue back and forth from those 15 or so of us who had been so unceremoniously left in the lurch, we were assured that we would be put at the top of the list for the following day. The final statement made by a high-ranking office member as they turned away from us – the citizens they are hired to serve and whose money pays their salaries – was “you can only do so much”.
Well, I beg to differ, as evidenced with the writing of this open letter to the public in the hopes that so much more can indeed be done by us, civil society, providing constructive criticism to you, the civil servants and your bosses, who will hopefully result in a mutually beneficial win-win for us all – the Bahamian people and our country. Citizens should not have to leave “gubment” offices annoyed and frustrated. We should leave pleased and satisfied for having been afforded the excellent customer service we deserve from government personnel who are proud to provide it in an efficient and courteous manner.
But in order to achieve this goal, a whole heap of work needs to be done.
Our country has become so saturated with a disastrous “power play silo mentality” reinforced daily by a lack of training in common courtesy, efficiency and effectiveness, that it totally boggles the mind, and we Bahamians refuse to speak up and demand better. But I say again, if a donkey is fool enough to let you get on his back, then you deserve to ride him!
I want to make it quite clear that this situation has nothing to do with what “gubment” party is in power or not in power, because the civil service remains the same for the most part in whatever instance. What is being spotlighted here is a sad and dangerous deterioration of common courtesy and disregard for one another that used to be the hallmark of what “true true community” meant.
Wake up and speak up, Bahamas. Let’s march upward and onward, together, to a common loftier goal!
To be continued with day two along with constructive and creative suggestions.
– Pam Burnside
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