Letter to DIG traffic
March 30, 2019
Misbehaving passengers at airports
March 30, 2019

Life as a citizen

Naeem Sadiq
The News
Tuesday, November 04, 2014


Every process has at least three versions. What you think it is : what it actually is : and what you would like it to be. The first step of process improvement is to at least synchronise the first two versions. Here is a real-life case study to describe the current working of one simple process of a government department. It highlights how our predisposition or ‘einstellung’ compels us to keep functioning the way we always did, rejecting more appropriate solutions even when they do exist in plenty. This report is not intended to be disrespectful or critical of any one. Its only aim is to draw attention to focus on processes from a customer’s point of view, to stress that government processes need radical improvements and to hope that it would trigger a debate on process improvement at every level and department of the government.

All over the world customer convenience is recognised as the foremost factor while designing processes and services that relate to citizens. Not so in Pakistan. The bureaucracy continues to cling to a morbid belief that misery, confusion, hurdles, delays and repeated visits to public offices are good for the health of citizens.

For the ‘Raj’ to continue it is necessary to keep the citizens entangled in an absurd maze of bureaucratic procedures. Intended or not, such processes are also a fertile breeding ground for ‘under the table’ transactions.

Let us recount a real-life case study to illustrate how the state treats its subjects. A citizen named Ghulam Ali (GA), wanted to get a No Demand Certificate (NDC) from a government department called ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ (CCL). While all facts of this case study are true, the names of individuals and departments have been changed to protect their privacy.

Around the middle of September 2014, GA decided to make his first visit to CCL’s offices to inquire about the procedure for obtaining an NDC. He was pleasantly surprised that CCL had a readily available printed leaflet that outlined the five documents needed to be presented for obtaining an NDC.

GA prepared the five prescribed documents and made his second visit to CCL. His documents were scrutinised, found in order, but he was told to get all the documents attested by a Notary Public (NP) and come back another time. GA looked for an NP and found one sitting on a footpath with large number of stamps and an eighteenth century typewriter. Without asking a single question, the NP asked his junior to stamp all pages which he then signed without looking at any of them. This utterly non-value-adding mindless exercise achieved nothing except making the NP richer by Rs1000.

Equipped with the complete set of duly attested documents, GA made his third visit to CCL. It was surely a blessed day as it took only half an hour for GA to submit his documents, have them scrutinised and obtain a receipt. The NDC could be collected after seven working days.

Hoping that the worst was over, GA made his fourth visit to CCL exactly after seven working days. He was shocked and taken aback when instead of the NDC, he was given a letter to obtain yet another document called ‘Change of Ownership’ (COO) from yet another department called DZA. On his creating a ruckus as to why was this requirement not included in the original list of requirements presented by CCL, GA was politely told that it was an over-sight and that he simply needed to get on with fulfilling the new requirement.

GA made his fifth visit, this time to DZA, presented CCL’s letter and requested for a COO. DZA accepted CCL’s letter and asked GA to come back after three days. When GA went to collect this document three days later (his sixth visit), he was horrified to learn that he would not be given the COO as CCL had made an error in its request letter. Instead of writing House No H-27, CCL had erroneously written House No H-72. DZA had to re-examine and re-verify the entire case before finally handing over the COO to GA on October 14, 2014.

Equipped with the COO, GA went back to CCL (his seventh visit on the subject) and requested for the issuance of the NDC. He was told to come back after seven days to collect the NDC. Seven days later when GA went to collect the NDC (his eighth visit), it appeared that CCL had not even started the process of NDC making. Poor GA was once again turned back and told to return after another 2-3 days.

Three days later, on October 24, GA went back to CCL for the ninth time. He was told that the NDC could not be made as a certain transfer fee was still outstanding – something that could have been told to GA on his very first visit. GA dashed to the designated bank, deposited the amount and presented the bank receipts to the CCL. But by now it was 12:30 pm and being a Friday, all work had to be suspended. GA was told to try his luck again after another three days.

Giving a fair margin, GA arrived at CCL for the 10th time on October 29. To his utter disappointment, he was told that the NDC was still not ready and was awaiting signatures by two CCL officials. GA was given the option to wait for about three hours or come back the next day. GA opted for the lesser evil to finally receive the piece of paper called the NDC on October 29, 2014.

What was done in 10 visits spread over 45 days could have been accomplished in one hour and one visit. That will certainly happen the day when the citizens refuse to be treated like slaves and the bureaucrats begin to behave as the servants of those who pay their salaries.

Naeem Sadiq