Our Desk | Bureaucracy and the ‘rule of three’

Daniel Beitler

Bureaucracy is equally as astonishing and stifling in Macau, as it seems to be everywhere else in the world.

Or at least that’s what I thought until very recently. I assumed that bureaucracy was pretty much the same the world over, but maybe made slightly worse in Macau by the not unusual instances of unprofessionalism.

What I mean by unprofessionalism is mainly staff members – usually customer service reps – not knowing or pretending not to know the answers to the most basic of enquiries. Sometimes, they answer you anyway, though the tone in their voice suggests far from 100 percent confidence.

I am told that the six months-plus lead-time needed by some government institutions to process an application is warranted by a backlog of thousands of other applications. In which case, why is it so difficult to recall the circumstances of those other applications and advise on specific requirements?

I follow a ‘rule of three’ when trying to extract information from customer service representatives: 1. Call up a representative and ask what is required. 2. Call another representative, ask what is required and verify any discrepancies. 3. Repeat step 2.

This helps to avoid turning in a pink form only to be told you need a yellow one.

When I first arrived in Macau, I learnt this the hard way. For one application, I downloaded an official form from the institution’s website, completed it and turned it in to the application center. But the staff member told me that my form was outdated and could not be accepted. I hadn’t realized that the department’s website was update-free since 2004, but the staff member I rang up didn’t tell me that either.

Like many others, I quickly became resigned to the headaches of Macau’s bureaucracy… and complained about it often. But then, only a few months ago, I had a revelation of sorts when attempting to navigate the bureaucratic landscape of my home country.

My rule of three, born out of practicality in Macau, was tested to its limit in Britain. It’s not that customer service representatives weren’t helpful; they just didn’t know the correct procedure but offered an opinion anyway. Each rep that I contacted had a different, but ‘assured’ perspective on how to file the application and the required supporting documents.

Then there is the fact that some UK government websites have no direct contact information listed. Instead, they charge concerned applicants the equivalent of about MOP60 per email enquiry, only to reply with a one-line answer. Did that answer your question? No? Feel free to send us another email.

We foreigners forget how lucky we have things in Macau, and the locals and mainlanders are – thankfully – happy to show us another way.

I recall one instance, around two years ago, when I needed to apply for a tourist visa at a consulate in Macau. I arrived with the required paperwork complete, only I had forgotten to bring with me a passport-sized picture to affix to my application.

With only an hour or so to go before closing time, I decided to ask a security officer at the consulate for the closest place to have such a picture taken.

The security officer, who was stationed in a small security office at the consulate’s entrance, motioned for me to walk around to his side of the desk and step into a tight storage cupboard, no more than 60cm wide. I hesitated… but complied, and the security officer pulled down a white backdrop and took a picture of me with his phone.

Feeling rather sheepish and possibly the butt of a joke, I was told by the security officer to wait for a little while. Less than 15 minutes later and about MOP100 lighter, someone dropped off four, professional-looking passport-sized photos.

Now that’s economic diversification. 

Categories Opinion