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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Professional Form-Filler

Somebody once defined Bureaucracy as a giant machine operated by pygmies. Well, with something like 800,000* people on the government payroll, Malaysia must have one of the world's largest bureaucracies. That's roughly 5% of our total population in the public sector (notwithstanding ongoing efforts to make it more private). In other words, for every 20 citizens there is an official pygmy assigned to making life a perpetual hassle. This procedure takes many forms (the Official Form, of course, being the bureaucrat's official form of expression).

So many forms, in fact, that in order to fill them correctly a special breed of Professional Form-Filler has arisen (and I'm not referring to the ones with law degrees). For a modest fee the Professional Form-Filler undertakes to fill in forms for members of the public who can't read or write Officialese - or who suffer temporary paralysis of the writing hand when confronted with formal documents. An extra dollar or two will ensure that your professionally filled forms arrive at their official destination in express time. Cari makan - we all have to eat, right?

The wonderful thing about Big Bureaucracy is that it's just like a coral reef (which is why I always pretend I'm wearing a face-plate and snorkel whenever I enter one of these government offices - it lends a touch of fascination to the experience): just beyond the humdrum hustle and bustle you'll encounter a certain timeless serenity, a vista of graceful inertia populated by generally benign varieties of clam and slug and polyp. But don't point your finger at the clams - they'll just put a 'tutup' sign in their window and snap shut. And watch out for the sea rambutans - otherwise known as spiny sea urchins - their tempers shorten in inverse proportion to the length of the queues. Above all avoid antagonising the occasional moray eel lurking maliciously within some plywood cubicle. Talk about uncivil servants! No use reminding them who pays their salaries; they'll just point at the PM's picture on the wall and smugly spout the current slogan about leadership.

Note: the Professional Form-Filler is not to be confused with the Orang borang (another distinct subspecies, recently identified by well-known marine biologist Rehman Rashid). While the Orang borang fulfills the vital task of keeping members of the public well supplied with Official Forms, the Professional Form-Filler ensures the smooth running of the system as an unofficial form-filling consultant. It's a perfect study of symbiosis.

tutup - closed
rambutan - hairy-skinned local fruit
orang - person
borang - form


*In 2007 the figure is reportedly over 1 million, making the ratio of bureaucrats to non-bureaucrats 1:25.

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