A young woman of my acquaintance has recently been obliged to take three days off work, not consecutively, to attend the Passport Office in a vain attempt to get her passport renewed. She has to travel for professional reasons – a training course – to the United States in the coming months and has been trying, as a diligent, forward-thinking person, to get her papers in order in good time for the trip. Her original passport was destroyed and she made a report to the police, which they somehow have managed to lose. You can imagine the problems she’s having.
Another young lady, well not so young really, but that’s not the sort of thing one can mention openly, found herself visiting the appropriate government office several times to pick up documents for herself and her mother – they were some sort of certificates that involved the dates of birth – and had to return numerous times because, firstly, the names had been spelt wrongly; secondly, the dates of birth had been entered incorrectly; thirdly, the names had been spelt wrongly again; and fourthly because the dates of birth had been mixed up: the daughter, according to the birth certificates, had been born before her mother. They finally got it right.
And it’s not only a matter of the officials making mistakes in spelling and copying, it’s also a question of them requiring documents that are not mentioned anywhere as required documentation. Sometimes, in order to supply what is required, it is necessary to make several trips back and forth. I recall from my own experience trying to get a certain document and was told that I needed to submit my marriage certificate. Even though this document was not listed as a requirement, I dutifully got a copy from Sweden, where my wife and I were married, and handed it over, only to be told that it had to be in English. The document was duly translated and verified by the Embassy, only to be told that it had to be signed by the priest who performed the ceremony. My protestations that the said priest had been dead for a couple of decades or so did not carry any weight. “Miraculously” – and that’s all I’m going to say – the dead priest’s signature appeared on the document and all was well.
On another occasion, again it was something that I have first hand experience of, I was told I had to submit documents that were not required according to the application form. I protested, demanded to see the supervisor, appealed to the relevant ministry and even went to see the highest official in the land, only to be told that, unfortunately, the application forms were those that were used in the United Kingdom because St Lucia did not have application forms of her own. It was hoped that sometime in the future the country would have its own application forms that reflected St Lucian requirements. In the meantime, officials would continue to ask for supplementary documentation after the application forms along with the listed supporting documents had been submitted.
Apparently, it never occurred to anyone that a separate one-page addendum to the application form could have listed the explicit St Lucian requirements. Instead, every single applicant had to go through the process of discovering bit by bit what additional documents were required.
And while I am on the subject, why are our officials incapable of letting us know “one time” everything we need to submit instead of adding requirements ‘peu à peu’ and making us travel back and forth like yo-yos?
The point is, of course, that public servants, who are there to facilitate our lives, not to make our lives more difficult, are fast becoming redundant. The whole world runs on electronic mail these days. You can apply for almost anything on-line. If you fill in a form incorrectly, or incompletely, the on-line form highlights what you have missed. And even if you have to try several times before you get it right, you are at least sitting in your own home, or by a friend, or at an Internet café, which beats travelling back and forth to Castries a million times any day, which I suppose is why e-government in St Lucia is going nowhere fast.