Bureaucracy in any society has ups and downs, pros and cons, benefits and absurdities. Just after an interaction today with Dubai’s bureaucracy, I read with painful amusement about Debito’s trials and tribulations in getting his Japanese passport renewed, a narrative of which was just published in the Japan Times. It’s worth reading in full, and I won’t spoil the ending, but consider the conundrum when Debito goes to renew his passport, which bears the name “Arudou Debito”...
I walked in with all the necessary documentation and filled out the forms. The friendly clerk gave everything a once-over (very professionally; no double-takes at a Caucasian applicant), and all was going smoothly… until he got to the rendering of my name in Japanese.
Clerk: “Er, about your last name. You wrote ‘Arudou’ on the form. Officially we only accept Hepburn-style Romanization, so you have to write it as ‘Arudo’ or ‘Arudoh.’ ”
I sighed, and said, ” ‘Arudou’ is how it is spelled. My expiring Japanese passport also had it rendered as ‘Arudou.’ Clearly that was acceptable then and should be acceptable now.”
Clerk: “Yes, you can write ‘Arudou’ on the back of your application to indicate how you would like your name rendered on the passport itself. But for our bookkeeping purposes, you must render it as ‘Arudo’ on the front. We can only take Hepburn. Please remove that superfluous ‘U.’ ”
I said I could do that, but then that person would not be me.
I won’t spoil the ending—read it yourself.
Consider also this painful story, forwarded to me from MF author Joe a few months ago, from one of his friends, regarding the issuance of an international driver license at the license issuing office of the Tokyo Keishichou:
I reviewed the online documentation before I went and by my estimation I had everything I needed to complete the application. I was wrong. I got to the window, license and picture in hand, and the lady at the counter asked me for my passport. My passport? The police department’s website said nothing about this, but she was insistent. Thus begun one of the dumbest dialogs I have ever had the misfortune to have participated in. It went something like this:
Lady: Please show me your passport.
Mike: You need my passport to issue an International Driver’s Permit?
Mike: Well, I have my Alien Registration Card, which has my passport number, the issuing authority and expiration date. Will that do?
Lady: No. It has to be THE passport.
Mike: Well, you guys are closing at 4 and I won’t have time to go home and get it. Isn’t there something else I can show you?
Lady: Do you have a copy of your flight itinerary or an e-Ticket?
Mike: Ah – yes I do! Just a moment. [fumbles with iPhone] Here it is!
Lady: Sorry, it needs to be printed.
Mike: What? It’s an e-Ticket. You don’t print e-Tickets.
Mike: Well, can I email it to you and have you print it?
Lady: We don’t have email.
Mike: Could I fax it to you?
Lady: We don’t have a fax machine.
Mike: So what am I supposed to do?
Lady: Well, there’s a convenience store around the corner. You could copy the screen on your phone and use that.
Mike: You’re serious?
Lady: Yeah, that would work fine.
Mike: Uh, Ok. Whatever you say. I’ll be back in a few.
So I did just that, but it didn’t work. Not surprisingly you can’t photocopy an LCD screen. So I took a screenshot of my phone, emailed it to our office receptionist and had her print the email, then fax it back to me at the convenience store. How’s that for efficient? 15 minutes later and I’m back … waiting in line again. 25 minutes and I’m back at the window. The conversation continues…
Mike: Here is the e-Ticket, printed as per your request.
Lady: Yep, that’ll be fine. Please go to window 7 and pay the fee, then come back.
Mike: [why the F!#@ didn’t you tell me about the fee BEFORE you sent me on this fool’s errand and made me wait in line again?] Thank you.
I pay the fee and get back in line. Another 10 minutes go by and I finally reach the window again…
Lady: Welcome back. Do you have all the documents?
Mike: Yes. Here you go.
Lady: Great. Lets’ see here… Yes, everything’s in order. Have a seat and I’ll call you when it’s ready.
What happened next absolutely made my blood boil. She stamped the application and passed onto the drone behind her, then handed everything else back to me—including the fax of the printout of the email of the screenshot of the e-Ticket! WTF?! I took two steps then lost it and turned around.
Mike: Lady, if you didn’t intend to keep this e-Ticket or use it for anything, why the hell did you make me go through all that just to give it to you on paper? You DO realize that it is nothing more than a paper copy of the screen I showed you earlier, right? I mean, that IS what YOU asked for, right?
Lady: Yes, I know, and I sympathize. But those are the rules.
Somebody rescue me. Please.
As it happens, today I went to DEWA (the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) to get my new apartment hooked up with electricity and water (we move in tomorrow). I prepared the necessary documents to the local office—a copy of my tenancy contract, a copy of my passport, and a copy of my visa—and rocked up to my local DEWA office.
First, here’s what went wrong. In addition to the necessary documents, I also brought in the proof of ownership form held by the landlord, the deed of his contract with the developer/seller from 2008, and the power of attorney held by his agent in Sharjah, UAE, as the owner is an Indian national resident in India. I put this together with my documents at the desk with the DEWA officer—and she decided to scrutinize those as well. Fortunately, everything was in order, but I shouldn’t have included those unnecessary documents, and that’s a lesson for dealing with any bureaucracy—don’t give them anything more than what they ask for.
But here’s what went right. It turns out I forgot a copy of my visa—it was left on my printer at the office! However, I had a pdf of the document in an e-mail sent from my work e-mail address (on my blackberry) to my personal e-mail address the day before. I asked the Dewa officer: could I e-mail her a copy of it to print?
This not being Japan, she said, “sure.” She offered to print out a copy if I could send that to her, and she gave me her e-mail address.
But I face another major problem—my blackberry runs out of battery in sending the 1.5mb file! Fearing I was doomed, I hopefully asked if she had a charger for a blackberry. She said no—but asked around, and fortunately, another DEWA clerk offered me his blackberry charger. I plugged in my phone, sent her the document, and minutes later I had the final receipt in my hand.
I should also note that e-government in Dubai is so advanced that I could have done the application entirely online, and upload electronic copies of the documents, but that means the electricity takes 24-36 hours to start up. Visiting the office directly, although you have to wait 20-40 minutes to be seen, gets you a connection to the grid in 3-4 hours. You can also renew your car registration, pay your utilities, and do much more through Dubai’s e-government systems.
Don’t get me wrong, Dubai has its problems. Lady Curzon made a special trip to our new apartment at 2pm, when a repairman was scheduled to be at our apartment to fix an unrepaired problem, and he showed up at 3:15pm. But on this occasion, I walked away impressed at the flexibility of bureaucracy, and when coupled with reading the same story by Debito (and remembering the same story from Joe above), I came away with the thought that Japan’s bureaucrats are handicapped by a slavish following of meaningless rules. It slows down the entire country and is a fruitless exercise.