Bermuda Triangle in the Corridor

You know something’s not quite right when the paranormal becomes a far more appealing explanation for administrative flaws in the public sector.


Coming from a family of government servants, I am not unfamiliar with the workings of the public sector. After the administrative problems I faced upon accepting a government scholarship 7 years ago, I should have anticipated the glitches following my graduation.

I dealt with 3 government agencies when applying for a position as a House Officer:

  • Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Awam (SPA) – responsible for the appointing me to the civil service;
  • Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA) – my sponsor; and
  • Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) – for which I had to register before I can practice as a doctor.

To their credit, the application process was fairly easy. SPA took the liberty to go to my university to teach us how to apply online (albeit in a condescending manner, but let’s not go there), and then conducted interviews on campus. The form from MMC was made available online and came with clear instructions.

What happened to the documents after I sent them out was a different story.

I reported to JPA immediately after graduation. However, I made a couple of mistakes. Firstly, I did not to go to Putrajaya. This was after being assured several times by a nice lady on the phone that it was alright to send the documents by post. I also sorted out my MMC application in the meantime. On the advice of my mother, wise from her years in government service, I sent both sets of documents by registered mail.

Then I made my second mistake, I went off for a vacation and forgot all about it.

The notification to resend some documents to the MMC came while I was away. It was imperative that I obtain my MMC registration so I prepared the necessary the moment I got home and sent the documents by Pos Laju. My father, another seasoned ex-civil servant, suggested I call a week later just to be sure they have received my documents.

Perhaps it’s my youth and naivete, but I had no doubt they did. So imagine my horror when I was told my documents were nowhere to be found. Worst of all, the woman on the phone insinuated that it was my fault.


Well, thank God for mail services with tracking numbers! I tracked the documents from the post office, to the ministry’s mail room and spoke to the person who signed for the letter and thus confirmed that someone from the office had indeed picked up the mail 4 working days ago. It was only after I conveyed that information that some real searching went on. My documents were located an hour later.

Just last week, I suddenly remembered that I did not call JPA. This time, I wasn’t as shocked to learn that my documents had gone “missing”, 2 months after I sent them. Once again I tracked the letter and got a non-committal “I’ll look for it and call you back.” She never did. Instead, I had to call back twice before I got the answer I needed – that they’ve found my documents.

Anyone who has worked with government agencies would consider this old news, attributing it to the general inefficiency of the public service. However as an avid fan of the X-Files, I would like to propose an alternative theory – the Bermuda Triangle in the corridor. It mysteriously makes documents disappear in the space between the mail room and the intended government office, possibly taking the office clerk with it. This would simultaneously explain two phenomena – the large number of applications that go missing or remain unprocessed in government offices, and secondly, why you can never find that gopher when you need something done.

Fear not! There is good news. The documents floating in the Bermuda Triangle in the corridor will magically resurface with a couple of firm phone calls or, in my case, laced with panic-stricken words. As for the disappearance of the office clerk, I suggest you try the break room.

Jokes aside, it is disappointing to know that my documents would have never reached the hands of the people-in-charge had I not called to enquire. This has dented my faith in the government service; the sector that I will be joining very soon.

Surely administrative staff in government offices are tired of receiving calls from Malaysians conditioned to follow up every application with a phone call within a week? When can we fully trust the civil service?

LB: Li-Shun has yet to come to grips about being a doctor and still thinks of herself as a writer-in-the-making. A Jane of all trades and master of none, she blogs about whatever takes her fancy at LiShun’s Musings.

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Posted on 27 October 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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