Anecdotal business frustrations aside (unless you’re a chronic bellyacher), there is no denying that 2012 is, to quote the Inquirer’s editorial last Wednesday, “a good year.”
Although the government still has a lot of work to do to improve the living conditions of the majority of our people, it’s a year that “bolstered the hope of many that the nation is headed toward genuine and lasting progress.”
Today, departing from my practice in the past of capping the year’s column with jokes about businessmen, lawyers and accountants, I shall add to that sense of optimism by sharing with the readers my pleasant experience in two government offices.
Early this month, I went through the once-every-three years ritual of renewing my driver’s license at the Land Transportation Office.
In terms of notoriety for fixers and inefficient service, the LTO suffers from the reputation as one of the worst among government offices that deal directly with the public.
For one, the urine test for drug use that the LTO requires for new and repeat applicants for driver’s licenses has been criticized (and rightfully so) by many as a waste of money.
I have yet to hear or read about an applicant being denied a driver’s license for failing that test. It’s either all applicants are drug free or the drug test is a sham.
Spooked by accounts of horrible service in LTO offices in Southern Manila, and upon the recommendation of friends, I made the one-hour drive to Pasig City to renew my license at the LTO satellite office at Robinsons Galleria along Edsa.
After a quick look at my license, a member of the LTO staff gave me an application form and directed me to the adjacent room to take the obligatory urine test.
A clinic attendant was at the door to assist the applicants fill up the form and explain the procedure to be followed in completing the urine and other medical tests.
After a 10-minute wait, I was asked to go to the cashier to pay the medical fees. The applicants were handed out numbers which were called as the urine test room became available.
My waiting did not take long. I had hardly warmed my seat after the urine test when I was asked to go to the physician’s room for the physical check-up and eye proficiency test.
The examination took about 10 minutes. Upon its completion, my photo was taken and, after a few minutes, the results of the urine and medical tests were given to me for submission to the LTO staff.
I paid the required fees and (surprise, surprise) was given the correct change without ado. Several minutes later, I was asked to go to the photographer’s booth for the picture taking and signature signing at the digital pad.
It did not take long before my new license was handed to me. The whole process was completed in about 35 minutes, in air-conditioned comfort and, this is most important, without having to contend with the fixers and hangers-on that usually hound LTO offices in Metro Manila.
Several days later, it was time for me to go to the main office of the Government Service Insurance System in Pasay City to claim a check payment.
The last time I went to the GSIS office was about four years ago to transact some official business. It was an unpleasant experience. I was shunted from one desk to another and spent almost an hour before the things I went there for were firmed up.
With that experience behind the back of my mind, I brought along a newspaper, a bottle of water and a reservoir of patience to tide me over what I expected to be a long wait.
The first thing that struck me when I entered the GSIS lobby was the cleanliness and orderliness of the place. It did not have the market place atmosphere that I felt the last time I visited it.
A staff member gave me clear instructions on where to go and what documents to fill up and submit to expedite the processing of my check.
After filling up the forms, I was told to go down to the canteen to get a photocopy of my two government-issued IDs. Although I had some misgivings about the propriety of that requirement since my IDs could be easily checked for their authenticity, I complied with it.
There were several people ahead of me when I got to the check releasing section. The waiting was made less stressful by the cool temperature and comfortable seats.
The two employees at the releasing booth patiently explained things to people who had some problems with their IDs or did not have the complete supporting documents.
A group of people who looked like they just arrived from a tedious trip and did not understand the procedure were assisted by two employees. The latter went through the documents shown to and picked out those that had to be photocopied.
When my turn came, the employee who attended to me quickly downloaded my data from his computer, checked them with the documents I submitted, asked me some questions and released my check, pronto.
There were no hints or loaded comments requesting a “commission” for the release of the check that is endemic in government offices that release payments to the transacting public.
Neither were there fixers around ready to approach people whose sad look on their faces or head nodding was the cue for them to offer their services to expedite matters, for a fee, of course.
What in the past would have taken an hour or so was done and over with in about 30 minutes without any hassle or greasing of palms.
Yes, Virginia, there are government offices in our country that truly live up to the purpose for which they were created.
Happy New Year!!
For comments, please send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.