Monday, 8 July 2013

A Matter Of Form

The beach of Sharjah
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So I was talking the other day about Sharjah announcing online tenancy contract renewal, the dream yet to be realised. There's a slew of announcements doing the rounds these days following Sheikh Mohammad's clarion call for e-government to take to mobile and everyone's busily trying to show they're working on m-government. Today, for instance, the Emirates ID Authority is to be seen in Gulf News demonstrating near field technology and pre-announcing ID card renewal via mobile apps by the end of the year.

Let's revisit that one just before Christmas for some reality checking, hey?

It's a major cultural change for the Emirates, all this online documentation stuff. It's counter-cultural to a huge degree. We're used to the good old ways and they are very analogue ways indeed. The generally accepted procedure is to require huge amounts of documentation to be produced in order to complete the simplest transaction and to insist on that transaction being carried out in person. It is mandatory to neglect to tell the applicant (or, more properly, supplicant) which documentation is required. When the applicant arrives hefting a huge wodge of paperwork, the concerned employee of the given department will unpick any staples attaching these documents together and re-staple the documents in a different order. He will then sigh and point out that the applicant has not remembered to bring the copy of an attested marriage certificate, birth certificate of his spouse and a copy of the frontispiece to the Faber 1932 edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

If, frustratingly, the applicant has all required papers and clearly has a copy of a wombat owner's license from the Saskatchewan state licensing authority, the employee of the concerned department will press the clear window worn in an otherwise grubby touchscreen and a small printed slip with an impossibly high number will be handed to the supplicant applicant. The applicant will be referred to at all times as a customer, including on the slip with the number.

The supplicant applicant customer can now wait in comfort as the impossibly low numbers on the screen count up towards the lofty heights of the number clutched in his hand. I've taken to bringing my Kindle with me, which does rather help.

In the good old days you had to take everything to a typing centre for them to type an application form for you, but in these days of e-government, we have the option of filling in the form online before printing it out and bringing it with us to make our application supplication customer service experience. The concept that scans of the required documents could be included in the online process, perhaps also payment of the releavant tax fee made is not really up for consideration - much less that the documentation could be digital from the get-go and available by cross-linking databases. Oh no, couldn't have that, could we?

And so I went to have our renewed tenancy contract attested today, carrying with me every possible document under the sun. I kid you not. I have long experience with this process - I've been doing it for something like twenty years now and can never once remember managing to have everything they've asked for first time around. I had tenancy contracts, passport copies, attested marriage certificates, copy of the landlord's ownership document, copy of the landlord's passport. I was equipped for an all-out war of attrition and I was going to win this one, baby.

Do you have this letter? Sighed the employee of the concerned department. What letter? This one. You have to have your landlord sign it and then you sign it. It says you won't build extra rooms in your villa and house more families. No, of course I don't, I've never heard of that letter until now. Regretful shrug (which I swear is a government employee's grin of triumph). You have to have it before I'll give you a number.

Sure, I can't wait for the process to go online. But I rather suspect it'll be a case of filling in the form online and printing it to make my application supplication customer service experience in person. They won't forego the pleasure of thinking up some new insane requirement to trip me up with. I can only wonder what they'll think up for next year. Meanwhile, I'm on eBay looking up old editions of The Complete Works of Shakespeare...

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