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Alicia Wallace: Service Second To None? More Like Second Rate

By ALICIA WALLACE

We all need service and we want it to be fast and inexpensive. Some of us want it to be friendly too and responsive to our every need. For any given service in The Bahamas - and in Nassau in particular - we would be fortunate to get two out of four.

I spent the last three days trying to complete two tasks — switching my phone number from one service provider to another and tracking down my complete immunisation record. After the first day of failed attempts, I asked myself why I had thought it would be easy in the first place.

Government service

Government offices are notorious for many things, from failure to answer phones to losing all of the information they ask us to provide. We all, at some point, have to go to a government office as part of a process we cannot avoid. We need passports, business licenses, birth certificates, and national insurance cards. Depending on the documentation we already have and the number of times we have gone through the process before, we may need to visit multiple offices to get one item.

For me, the elusive document is my complete immunisation record. My paediatrician had most of the information, but most does not cut it for my current purpose. I visited the schools I attended and, while they did their best to assist, I have not found all the information.

Inquiry after inquiry, all roads lead to the Baillou Hill Road Clinic. Some people say the clinic will only have my records if I visited clinics before, but others say private doctors submitted their records to the clinic, so it is all there. They all said even if the Baillou Hill Road Clinic did not have my records, it would be the only place to give me the vaccines missing from the document I have.

I have been advised to be in line at the clinic by 7am today if I want to get it done. I am sure I had every vaccine required as a child and I know it was needed for enrolment in school, but I do not have the evidence. I will definitely be getting a few vaccines today, just to move things along.

In talking about this with friends and family members, I heard several stories about long, difficult processes that could be shorter and easier with the help of technology. From having to report a stolen vehicle twice, to multiple visits to make an application due to misinformation on requirements, we waste too much time.

What if the Elizabeth Estates Clinic could see the Baillou Hill Road Clinic’s records? What if the passport office could access the registrar general’s records? What if they digitally archived records the first time they receive them? We would not have to drive or take the bus to multiple locations in search of one document. We would not have to make requests, wait, and pay for the same documents every few years. We can simplify these processes. Lines could be shorter, and citizens could be less stressed.

All we need to do is centralise the information, properly train front line staff, maintain the system and teach citizens how to access public services in the new, easy way.

Is Service Bahamas coming?

When going through a process like applying for a passport renewal in 2018, it can feel like the one-stop-shop is decades away, but it does not have to be. The National Development Plan — Vision 2040 — has a section called “One Window Approach for Government”. It proposes the creation of a new agency to make it easier for citizens to perform transactions and access public services in-person, online, and by phone while reducing the number of front line staff at various ministries. This new agency, Service Bahamas, would have a list of services it provides and the National Development Plan specifically mentions health insurance, drivers’ licence, and house permits. The needs are detailed, from staff training on service delivery to appropriate legislation.

The National Development Plan is now in its second draft and over 600 pages long. The document is the product of years of work by a competent team. It is linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and not only outlines actions, by outlines the outputs and expected outcomes. It responds to many of the concerns we, citizens and residents, raise on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, it has not been discussed in a long time. It is unclear whether or not this administration is remotely interested in the plan, much less committed to any part of it. Is it going to be like the hundreds of proposals we hear about that were submitted to the government over the past few decades, only to collect dust? Fortunately, we know the National Development Plan exists. The plan, however, is nothing without action. We have to demand that action. We have to demand better service, just as we demand it of private entities.

Private sector service

While abroad, I did not use my Bahamian cell phone service. It has never worked anywhere else, and I have SIM cards I use for travel. Managing multiple SIM cards is easier and less expensive than spending hours arguing about roaming and associated charges. To ensure I did not lose my Bahamian cell number, I continued to top-up online. On my arrival, I tried to make a call to confirm that my Bahamasair flight was on time and I would be ready for pickup soon. No network. No matter what I did, I could not get a call out.

When I got to a landline, I called the company to explain the situation. The representative told me my phone was inactive. I gave her the dates of my top-ups and she informed me that if the phone was not in use, I would have needed to top it up with a phone card to keep the service.

Even speaking with her and providing all of my information was not enough. She insisted that I needed to buy a phone card and apply it in order to restore service. I reminded her that phone cards have been harder to come by since the company started phasing them out and I have no idea where to get one. She told me she did not know where I could get one either. I told her that was unacceptable, so she asked what area I was in. I said I was in the east, and she started directing me to a store on JFK. That was day one of a seven-day saga.

Other representatives have since dismissed some of the claims made by the first person I spoke with on the phone, but there is clearly a problem with communication and understanding of company policy and knowledge of services and locations.

At one of the locations, someone tried to convince me that I needed to buy a phone card to replace my SIM card, and because they only had $20 cards and combo cards, I should buy the combo card and pay VAT on its value. I expressed my doubt that the combo card would even work. Representatives insisted that it would work, but would not commit to giving me a refund if it did not work. I was later told, at another location, the card would not have worked.

Tired of the back and forth, carting around a SIM card that did not work, I decided to switch companies. Unfortunately, I still had to go through the SIM card replacement process because the new company needed it to send a text message for porting. What I really wanted to do was tell them to forget it.

Service industry

I remember people bragging about the service industry in The Bahamas. “Second to none,” they used to say. We do not believe it any more. We are often fed up before we even begin.

Have you ever left your house already frustrated by the experience you assume you are going to have? Poor service is expected. Sadly, it is also accepted. We convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do about it aside from getting loud on the line or complaining on Facebook. Business do not even try to retain customers. Government services are even less bothered.

I can not help buy wonder what the service — public and private — would look like if we were all treated like tourists. One day we will love ourselves enough to demand and give each other better.

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