Terrible tax office treatment
Two weeks ago - the day before Emancipation Day, I made my annual trek to the tax collectorate at Constant Spring to renew the motor vehicle licence for my wife's car. You expect delays at these public offices, but two and a half hours standing in a long line was unpleasant and punitive.
For most of the time, only two cashiers were on duty, even though the collectorate is furnished with a dozen or so windows. "Are you short-staffed?" I asked the friendly floor supervisor. "No," he replied, "but we are suffering some severe challenges back there." "Suffering from low wages?" I enquired. "That, too," he admitted, "but we have no water to flush toilets or wash hands."
With water restrictions in place for several weeks already, surely by now management should have put arrangements in place for flushing the toilets. And why should this be the cause of only two cashiers on duty to serve the growing crowd?
Soon the number of cashiers, reduced to one, and we moaned; and then it increased to three, for which we were grateful.
Favours for friends
But what really bothered me was the young man in a yellow shirt behind the counter who I observed approaching the cashiers with side transactions. Sadly, we have in Jamaica a 'bly' culture - of staff helping out their friends so they don't have to join the line. The words of the minister of finance come to mind: "In Jamaica, the man who plays by the rules is the man who gets shafted".
I asked the friendly floor supervisor about it, but he said that he hadn't seen the young man in the yellow shirt and he didn't seem interested in following up on my complaint. He again asked me to appreciate the stress the staff were under. For the life of me, I couldn't see the connection between unflushed toilets and the staff giving their friends unfair advantage over the general public.
When my turn at the wicket eventually came, as I was submitting my documents to the cashier, someone appeared beside her with a side transaction and she turned away from me to attend to her friend. I interrupted her and advised that I was next in line and that she should attend to me before her friend. She ignored me. Then she advised me that I didn't know the stress they were under behind the wicket.
I then asked her to please call her supervisor. She advised me that, since I was the one who wanted to speak to the supervisor, I should call her myself. I thought she was quite rude! So much for customer service! Because of the season, she was wearing black, green and gold. I told her she was a disgrace to the colours she was wearing.
Eventually, she turned to process my documents; but then another friend of hers came up behind me and pushed his documents in front of me, begging her to finish with him quickly because he had somewhere to go! No line for him! A normal day at the tax office, I suppose.
I told this newcomer that I had waited two and a half hours to reach this point, and that he was 'downpressing' me, and that I wished to be emancipated from him. The cashier, wearing the colours she had disgraced, prudently advised him to wait until she had finished dealing with me.
Of course, I complained to her supervisor, who was polite enough. She was clearly used to the complaining public, and apologised profusely for the situation. And she repeated the by-now-tired excuse that they were working under a lot of stress. I remarked to her that I had no water at home, and that I had bathed out of a pan that morning, having made my arrangements for sufficient water. "But that is your home!" was the retort of a nearby cashier who overheard my complaint.
Clearly, there is a management problem at the Constant Spring collectorate. In a time of scarce water resources, management must make the same sanitary arrangements for the workplace that, presumably, they make for their homes.
The supervisor seemed to feel that, since I had made my complaint and had received an apology, the matter was now at an end. She did not suggest that she would see to it that side transactions would be brought to an end, or that rude staff members would be reprimanded. The matter was at an end!
The water shortages have put us all under a lot of stress, and I sympathise with the staff of government offices whose management has made inadequate arrangements for their convenience. The absence of water in bathrooms is no excuse for rudeness and poor customer service.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.