December is a stressful month for Aliran. It is the month when Aliran’s publishing permit expires. In fact, on 15 December of every year our permit expires. As for this year, in another eight days, our permit will expire and yet there is no news from the approving authority.
The law has it that an application for a permit must be submitted three months before the expiry of the current permit. Presumably, this is to give the approving authority ample time to sort out bureaucratic formalities before the issuance of the permit.
Invariably – except for a few rare occasions – the formalities were never completed within the three months’ grace period . Very often, we would receive the permit after the expiry date. This is very difficult to understand.
Normally, we would start phoning the Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN) in October/November to make enquiries regarding the status of our application. We would usually be told that that our application was under process. It would be the same answer even if you were to ring up a month later. It seems to be the standard answer.
On one occasion, we had the shock of our lives when we were told sometime in November that they had not yet received our application, which had been submitted well before 15 September. Luckily for us – and unfortunately for them – we had the registered mail AR Card as proof of receipt. When this evidence was faxed to them, they miraculously discovered our file!
When there is no sign of the permit, we become desperate in December. That is when we start ‘chasing’ them. This time the reply would be that our application had been cleared but the letter notifying us and requesting the usual payment of RM400 was awaiting the signature of the officer concerned. This would take many days because the officer would either be on leave or attending meetings. Once I was forced to ask why it was so difficult to sign a letter which should have been a routine thing.
In 1997, we had to ‘chase’ them from 2 December up to 6 January 1998 – ten calls in all. Finally, I had to speak to YM Tunku Mahmood, who was gracious enough to expedite the matter.
In 1998, we first contacted them on 13 October and thereafter continued to ‘chase’ them right up to the following year on 7 January 1999 – three weeks after the expiry of the permit and almost four months after submission of our application.
In 2001, you won’t believe it but we had to make 25 calls beginning on 12 October. Finally, we were told on 22 January 2002 that the permit was posted on that day.
In 2005, we had to make 21 calls between 29 November and 13 January 2006, on which date we were given the permit number over the phone.
This year, between 3 November and 7 December, we called the KDN 16 times.
It is frustrating dealing with KDN over the phone, but we have no choice as we are located outside Putrajaya. It must be equally upsetting for others who have to deal with the KDN over the phone. Very often, there would be no answer or a recorded voice message would state that the box was full or you would be asked to hold on interminably until you get cut off.
On 3 November, we received a letter from the KDN telling us that we should have sent a copy of Aliran Monthly as required in the application form. Subsequently, I pointed out to the man in charge that that requirement was not in the application form that was given to us. He said the form we used was an old form and this requirement was stated on the new form. When asked why were we given an old form by the KDN Department in Penang, he had no answer.
On 7 November, we sent a copy of Aliran Monthly by registered mail.
Since there was no news whatsoever for a month, I called the KDN on 5 December. A lady (name withheld) answered but she had no inkling of the problem. Nevertheless, she asked all kinds of irrelevant questions without being helpful. Then she passed me on to another lady (name withheld), who stated that she was the person dealing with our application.
When I mentioned that it was critical as the permit was expiring on 15 December and we wanted to know when we would be receiving the new permit. She said that they have not yet received the copy of Aliran Monthly that we were supposed to have sent them. I told her that it was sent by registered mail on 7 November.
She kept repeating that she had not yet received the copy of Aliran Monthly and that she was waiting for it – Saya tunggu (I am waiting).
I asked what happens now since we had already posted the copy.
She repeated, “Saya tunggu.”
I replied in a loud voice, “Saya sudah hantar (I have sent it).”
She repeated the same refrain like a faithful parrot.
I told her that I would have to take up the matter with her higher ups and mentioned the name of the person.
She merely said, “Kalau cerita, ceritalah (If you want to complain, go ahead).”
I faxed her the registration number as proof of posting and asked her to confirm officially in writing whether she had received the copy of the magazine so that I could take up the matter with the postal authorities. The following day, I made three calls to ascertain if the fax had been received. Unfortunately I was not successful.
I next contacted the postal authorities in Butterworth who conducted a search and finally faxed us the signed evidence of receipt by the KDN.
I called the KDN today and told the lady that I had the evidence to prove that the copy of Aliran Monthly was delivered to KDN.
She was friendly this time. She informed me that whatever we send, either letters or a copy of the magazine, get delivered to the seventh floor and don’t reach those working on the fourth floor. And that was why she had not received what we had sent them. This must be a strange way of doing things in super-modern complex!
But she assured me that she was working on our application. She managed to persuade the people on the seventh floor to part with a copy of the Aliran Monthly that we send them regularly upon publication each time. By law, we are required to send eight copies to KDN every month but we send them 10 copies.
She told me that ours was not the only case she was dealing with. She was handling all the applications from all over the country including Singapore, giving the impression that she was over-worked and that her section was short-handed.
Surely, ours cannot be an isolated case of frustration and distress. There must be hundreds of others, if not thousands, who are similarly affected but must feel rather intimidated by the bureaucracy and the officialdom. Many would conclude that to criticise or complain would jeopardise their application and therefore choose to suffer in silence. But in a civilised society this cannot be tolerated. We have a right to be treated with dignity and served diligently by a civil service that must be accountable.
The Prime Minister had asked the civil service to buck up and serve the people. He must investigate this matter as a matter of urgency and find out whether the inordinate delay that we are subjected to without fail is justified.
If the system within his domain cannot function efficiently and effectively to deliver the service expected of it, how can he enforce a delivery system throughout the country that can be meaningful and serve the people as is expected of a civil service.
7 December 2006