Culture Shock: the terrible reality of our substandard public service
You normally get culture shock when you travel overseas as you have to get used to another country’s way of life, food, language, dressing, general lifestyle and other related values, habits and attitudes. But the same can be said of the experience when you have to readjust to life ‘back home’.
One of those moments happened this week. A passenger waved down a service bus on Chinese street early Friday morning 31st August and asked the driver if he could take him to one of the suburbs of Port Vila. The bus driver agreed and signalled the passenger to board. Two other passengers boarded. On the way, the driver swang into Wilco’s car park, dropped off one of the guys sitting at the front then drove back to the main road and took a left turn back into Wilco via the wholesale side of the building and right into the wholesale area.
The bus stopped there to wait for the guy that had hopped off the bus at the car park. One of the passengers asked the driver how long he would be sitting there at Wilco’s wholesale area, then the driver explained, ‘sorry, ating bae yu faenem wan nara bus….brata ia [the guy who had hopped off at the car park] hemi wantem mi karem cement blo hem’. The driver could have informed the passenger before turning into Wilco to hop off and find another transport. But he didn’t. To him, it was not a problem for passengers to sit in his bus, waste time and wait for one passenger who was out to get some private business done when the public transport was obviously out on the road to serve others that morning.
The funny part of that morning’s experience was, after the other guy got off at the car park, he now had to come looking around the place to find out where his friend bus driver had parked his rotting old bus. Is this due to some form of communication breakdown or just sheer silliness on both their part? Relevant public transport associations in Port Vila surely have a huge challenge still ahead to improve on the simple phrase called “service delivery” to public transportation users in the capital.
The poor bus driver, who besides obviously not having had a shower that morning before going out to serve the public, just didn’t understand what the word ‘service’ meant. To him, it was perfectly ok if other customers just sat in his bus for about 15-20 minutes to wait for his passenger friend to load his bus with dusty cement even if they were all dressed and commuting on their way to work that morning. His one friend mattered more than the rest.
Also, the phrase “I’ll call you back” is also becoming another meaningless rhetoric. If utterer is a sales agent who wants to sell you a new product such as a piece of furniture, a new car, some equipment, etc. you can rest assured he will call you back as promised. Ask him to call or email you back once he has successfully sold you the product because something related is not properly working, then you know the terrible reality of ‘after-sales service’ in Vanuatu. People are eager to sell you things, but cannot be bothered to ensure the after-sales support matches the sweet talk you hear leading up to the initial sale. They lose customers and complain of there being too much unfair competition from others.
Bob Makin has made reference to the dismal service provided by VBTC (letter titled ‘VBTC at its worst’, DP Issue #3637) during the recent coverage of our two leaders on ‘Face to Face’ at Parliament House. After all the effort put up by PiPP to get this public engagement initiative out to the population, the best that our national media outlet could do is provide the kind of substandard service described by Makin. And the endless list goes on and perpetuates because such mediocre service seems to have never been dealt with appropriately. Despite the rhetoric that we continue to display publicly about our national desire to advance the growth of the service sector, the actual services we provide is very poor.
Apparently we are yet to fully understand and appreciate the nature of service – especially when it is public service – paid for by tax payers. Private providers providing public services – such as the bus driver described above – should get off the road, go through some basic service training and the likes before returning to serve the general public.
The Government has recently established another institution to provide some kind of leadership training and management excellence. That might well serve a few of those at very senior level of government, but that is only going to cover a tiny percentage of the workforce, it seems. What about the rest of those who occupy positions which oblige others to utilise their services – whether or not such services aredelivered professionally?
Since we seem to be good at setting up new organisations, maybe we should also consider setting up another agency called the ‘Vanuatu Total Quality Management Organisation’ (VTQMO). That organisation’s role would be to address our lousy public transportation system, retrain the entire public service workforce to get civil servants better attuned to the culture of real, acceptable standard of service to others, address the issue of services within Vanuatu’s tourism industry which is still disappointingly poor in a few of our major establishments, and basically deal with the entire service industry from a quality assurance level.
That brings to mind a very interesting experience that happened at Bauerfield airport around March 2012. The plane had landed and everybody was queuing up at the immigration counters. But there was nobody at the immigration desk. Not on soul. Amid the passengers was a Vanuatu Ambassador, some senior people of Government and a mighty long line of tourists. Lucky enough, amid the passengers was an immigration officer who was out on attachment overseas. He quickly found his way into the immigration booth and started stamping the passengers’ passports, etc. And Vanuatu wants to promote trade in the services sector when we are unfaithful in the many little things that we can do without any extra costs.
The big, flowery policy decisions that we make media limelight over will take us nowhere if the very systemic machinery that is supposed to indicate that the services sector is healthy is simply not working as it should. The problem of the bus driver who drove some passengers into a hardware store parking lot, the problem of dismal ‘after-sales-service’ that we get from those who are eager to just sell products, the problem of VBTC’s mediocre coverage of the Prime Ministers and Leader of Opposition’s speeches, the problem of the unattended immigration counter at Bauerfield and those many other similar issues reflect a country whose services sector needs a complete overhaul. Relevant authorities need to do their job better.
>>The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Vanuatu Daily Post