Monday, May 27, 2019
HomeOpinionLettersPassport woes, pt. 2

Passport woes, pt. 2

 Dear Editor,

Please find below the second half of my recent experience at the Passport Office.

Day two – With a positive mind, I arrived at the Passport Office just after 7 a.m. the following day to find that the crowd was already forming. There was a gentleman in charge of the sign-in list,and since he knew nothing about yesterday’s promised pre-booked list, as a precaution I added my name to his list, which he had numbered (he was already up to the 90s). Apparently (and I stand to be corrected) the task of ‘holding the list’ is allocated to a selected customer waiting on the outside by an early morning member of the office staff – that shows some initiative!

By 7:30 a.m. an office member came outside to explain the procedure to the crowd: the overflow from the day before would be seen first, followed by that morning’s new arrivals. Another ‘lo and behold moment’ occurred, as our names from the day before were called, we were issued a number, let into the sanctum of the freezing-cold interior and directed to our section seats! I was impressed with this maneuver — it appeared that things were moving smoothly and we would be served quickly.

I was certainly grateful to have a proper seat this day. As we sat and waited, I did a cursory count of the seats arranged in the two sections, which numbered around 50, there were six properly numbered service cubicles and an electronic Qmatic numbering monitor on display. I was also impressed to hear, as other persons (starting with the first-time baby applicants and new parents) were let inside to fill the seats, that only those persons who were there for processing would be allowed to take a seat; i.e., if you were not legitimately accompanying a minor, or were an adult tagging along with your family or friend to hog up a seat in comfort and soak up the air conditioning, forget it – you were banished to the uncomfortable outer limits! That day the passport office seemed to be cookin’ with gas!

Eventually we were called by rows to a desk, where we showed our passports and NIB cards, were given a slip of paper (with no explanation of what it was for), and sat back down to wait and wait, as the service cubicles remained empty, with only one gentleman at work. My high spirits began to lag.

During this time a customer made it known that the cashier had arrived, and that the slip of paper we had been given was supposed to be taken to the window on the other side of the room for payment. A group of us made our way to that area to line up for service. This, however, resulted in a stern reprimand from office staff as well as the defense force officer, who appeared on the scene to ask us not to block the area and to return to our seats, still without providing any explanation of what was supposed to happen next.

As we continued to sit, the service cubicle staff members arrived and number D1 (The letter ‘D’ is apparently for renewals) appeared on the electronic board – finally there was action! Well number one was a lonely number that morning, because it was quite a while before another number was called. Some of our group from the day before struck up a conversation about yesterday’s debacle and today’s slow start. We decided to take some initiative, instead of just sitting there doing nothing, and began to make our way over to the cashier in small groups to pay, get our receipts, and sit back down to wait.

All of a sudden the numbering system seemed to go haywire, with several numbers changing rapidly from D5 to 11 and directing everyone to cubicle six, which was already serving a customer. The next number waiting to be served was 6, and although I was number 9, office staff came from behind the counter to demand that I attend their cubicle, in spite of us trying to explain how to count! I presented my documents as outlined on the information form and was told that my original birth and marriage certificates were not acceptable. I pointed out that the information pamphlet said otherwise, and was told in a condescending tone that the information pamphlet was incorrect and “I am telling you what to do!” Well, excuse me for trying to follow the rules as written on your pamphlet, that apparently are really no longer the rules, because you did not bother to correct them before telling me to follow them – too bad, too sad! Is this customer service?

I was told to check my information as entered and was given my receipt, which indicated the date I should return at the end of the month for collection at the front office – and I intend to let the public know when it is in hand. My processing took less than 10 minutes – I had waited for almost three hours! Is this efficient?

I left the Passport Office after 10 a.m. and headed to the Registrar General’s Department on Shirley Street to request and pay for certified copies of my documents to take back to the Passport Office. The registry process was smoother and quicker, but ‘older’ persons should be aware that their documents cannot be processed on the spot because they are not ‘in the computer system’ – you will have to make a return trip after a few hours for pick up! Also, as an important sidebar, these new birth certificates for us older persons do not contain accurate information with respect to a person’s siblings – the registry needs to address this matter.

It is in the spirit of constructive criticism, therefore, that I offer the following suggestions for consideration by whomsoever it may concern, in the hopes that the Passport Office experience might become a more efficient and effective one in a more pleasant environment for the customers of 21st century Bahamas:

Preparation

a) The website for the Passport Office (and all other government offices) should contain accurate information at all times, and be maintained and updated on a regular basis. Trained Bahamian graphic artists should be hired to design aesthetically pleasing online sites for public use.

b) The general information pamphlet should not be distributed to the public with incorrect information. The pamphlet should be updated immediately if any changes are made to the process and procedures, which should be pointed out to recipients. It is a photocopied sheet that is easily produced. The registration procedure (i.e. arrival on the outside) is not presently addressed in the pamphlet, and it should be.

c) Bahamian citizens no doubt attempt to obtain information by telephoning the office. It is hoped that the three telephone numbers listed on the Information pamphlet and in the telephone directory are operational, and the numbers are answered by knowledgeable, helpful staff.

Comfort

a) The Bahamian public is grateful for the awning that is erected outside for protection from the sun and rain. I expect that this is not adequate to shade larger crowds during the hotter summer months and rainy season, therefore an additional canopied area should be considered.

b) There is certainly no reason why persons should be standing up on the outside in such a haphazard manner. The current benches are a disgrace, and should be replaced by groups of chairs similar to those inside, placed and bolted to the ground in an east to west orientation, facing south in order to accommodate many more people under the awning. Several chairs can also be placed facing west in front of the a/c units to the south of the door. Several chairs should also be designated for senior citizens.

Information graphics

The empty cabinet on the wall outside should be removed, and attractive signage (designed by a graphic artist) listing the documentation required for the various categories, as well as the application procedures (which are listed on the information pamphlet) should be placed on the entire western wall for all to see and refer to. Proper procedural/information signage should also be placed on the inside.

Registration order

I make no apology to those in charge of the Passport Office for having the audacity to be “telling people how to do their job”. Since you, yourselves, do not have to ‘toe the line for service’ it may come as a shock to realize that continually disgruntled customers (that’s us, the Bahamian people, whom you are obligated to serve, do not appreciate having to waste precious hours, days and months back and forth. We also have lives to attend to!) should always be a clear indicator that something is wrong: your system isn’t working, and it’s time to re-examine your process/procedures.

Grouchy staff members who appear burdened at their jobs, with no time to take a break or have lunch (as I was informed) are also a clear indication of not enjoying either their work or their work place; not having the tools or procedures in place to work efficiently and effectively and/or not being interested in having positive interaction with their customers – they rather use the power of their positions against the customer, rather than for the customers’ benefit. If you vex and we vex, what good will come of that? Let’s work together to find positive solutions for everyone!

In this technological age, there is no need for persons to be standing outside in the wee hours of the morning in an attempt to get served. If the registration process is organized properly, persons can arrive at a sensible hour, be processed quickly and leave within a reasonable time frame.

a) There should be a registration desk on the outside with a numbered sheet for customers to sign as they arrive, then have a seat. At 8 a.m. a staff member, equipped with a portable waistband PA system, would man the desk with a laptop computer showing a numbered spreadsheet listing the various categories of applicants: new born babies, old passport to e-passport registrations, e-passport renewals and any others.

b) Customers would then approach the registration desk in number order when their names are called (using the microphone headset on the PA system instead of shouting), until everyone’s name is entered in the appropriate category column, with any senior citizen/disabled persons in attendance being identified so that they can be seen first in their category.

Since the Passport Office is aware of how many applicants they can process in a day, once that quota is reached, any other applicant’s name can be placed on the following day’s roster (which should be limited to an additional five persons) and the applicant can then leave knowing they can return the following day and be seen, rather than having to wait for four hours before being turned away!

c) This registration process would not take long, and the list generated would be the working list for the day’s activities. It should be uploaded on to a monitor inside so that applicants can see the progress of their group in real time (just like ordering pizza or waiting to be seen at the Cable office!)

Processing logistics

Once inside, the various categories would then be directed systematically to other staff members’ stations where they can have their documents checked to make sure they are in order. They will also receive their forms to pay the cashier and get their receipts. Once their number is called for processing, their time spent at the counter would be minimized since their documentation would have already been checked.

This method would allow many more persons to be processed in a day. If e-passport renewals require a mere 10 to 15-minute processing time, there should be one cubicle dedicated to renewals throughout the day so that more renewal applicants can be served.

Feedback

A locked suggestion box should be available for customers’ use and it should be opened by someone at the permanent secretary level for weekly review. How many times do the ‘higher-ups’ visit offices under their purview to observe what exactly is taking place and confer with staff on a regular basis for feedback?

These letters have taken quite a lot of effort to write, and it is hoped that they are received positively and will achieve mutually beneficial results for us all.

– Pam Burnside

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