KEVIN AND I lined up my Cube for the Licensing Office inspection at 7.30 am on December 7. For some unexplainable reason, I thought it possible to put previous bad experiences in the Licensing Office behind me. It wasn’t just those wasted days spent transferring vehicles.
On one occasion I had to go down there to “loud up” an officer who told a Trinidad-born teenager he could not get a Trinidad driver’s permit because he was an American citizen.
I didn’t think any experience could beat that one until the day I discovered my car and me were wanted for armed robbery in Arima.
The gunmen had a blue Almira matching mine down to the licence plates number.
“This happens,” the sergeant investigating the matter told me quite casually. “Gunmen buy licence plates from cars that match the one they are going to use in a crime.”
On this day, however, my Cube was the third car in the inspection line so I threw bad memories aside and predicted being out of the Licensing Office by lunchtime.
It didn’t take long to burst my bubble. The licensing officer who had to give his stamp of approval for the next stage of the gruelling, antiquated process of transferring cars in this country arrived to work half an hour late at 8.30 am.
Thankfully, assistant officers had our information ready so we finished the initial stage quickly, once the supervisor came. After that, I decided to dash home to pick up a second form of ID I had forgotten to bring. Kevin and I made it back around 10.10, answered the affable clerk’s questions for her form and presented documents for stage two of the process. I predicted we’d be out of the office by 11; then became edgy after an hour of waiting. By then, the ticking clock wound up everyone in the room.
At 11.20 I noted with growing anxiety that nothing was happening. No names were being called. I joined a couple of disgruntled customers who headed for the counter to protest the delay.
The polite clerk informed us they were short-staffed because a supervisor had gone to a funeral, and they really couldn’t run a couple of forms at a time to the back to be processed.
At 11.30, the kind clerk facilitating stage two vanished into thin air. This became worrisome by 11.50 because it definitely looked like we would be sitting there tapping our feet through the public servants’ lunch break.
At 11.50, three of us approached the counter once again to enquire about the missing public servant. “Oh, they all went into a meeting at 11.30. Then they will go to lunch,” the male clerk smiled.
I thought I would have to “loud up” the place, but another agitated customer did a far better job than I could that day. She listed all the reasons why this was wrong, and the more valid reasons she gave, the more the clerk smiled.
His smile looked more and more inappropriate.
Totally disillusioned and disgusted, we decided to go back to work because the process looked like it would take two days.
“I just don’t get why they have one cashier and no one to cover for absences,” Kevin said.
“I don’t understand why in this day of technology, the Licensing Office operates like it’s still the Stone Age,” I said.
Later, Kevin decided to return to the Licensing Office without me.
“I made it in time,” he said. “I collected the paper work, the cashier took my money and then closed at 3 pm.”
“But the place closes at 4,” I said.
“The cashier closes at 3,” he shrugged.
These days, I am thinking about how right President Paula-Mae Weekes was to talk about the tainted image of the public service in a recent speech at Cipriani College. She said public institutions are the platform through which people are served and the bridge between people and government.
"They should be functional, modern and well run. Sadly, our public sector has earned the invidious reputation for ineptitude, inefficiency and stagnation."
In my mind, the public service represents the Government, and its doing a poor job of it.
In the end, I can only say when it comes to painful and humiliating experiences with the public service, the Licensing Office is right up there at the top of my list. In my 35 years in Trinidad, nothing has changed. How can that possibly be?