My freedom of information request misadventure — Tracy Toh

MARCH 19 — Today I attempted to file a freedom of information request on a development project that is happening in my neighbourhood. I was told to file for this by the Bukit Gasing ADUN (DAP) after I started asking about the said development project.

I went to the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) at around 2.20pm with an application form I had downloaded online. The receptionist directed me to the OSC centre, which then sent me to the town planning department. Staffers looked bewildered as they examined the form and could not advise me on where to file the completed form.

At some point, they suggested that I speak with someone who oversees Section 17 Petaling Jaya but I refused this as I had already approached the ADUN who told me to make this application. Finally, someone said the form had to be submitted to “SUK”, the Malay acronym for the Selangor State Assembly. He asked me where I’d obtained the form and asked me to check the instructions.

I found the application form online again and called 03-5544 7671 that was listed on http://www.selangor.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/97.

A woman answered and told me the form had to be submitted to “Bahagian Korporat”. I told her it was 2.30pm and that I was coming from MBPJ and asked if I would make it in time. She said ‘yes’. I then asked if submission and payment could be made online and she said “no”.

So, I rushed to SUK in Shah Alam and reached about 3:20pm. I headed directly for Bahagian Korporat on the ground floor but again, the receptionist had the same blank stare when she saw the form. She took the form, disappeared for a while and finally came out saying the department didn’t handle it.

She then asked me who had told me to go to Bahagian Korporat and I referred her to the extension I had called earlier. She proceeded to call the operator to ask who was at that extension and then told me to go to see Puan Normala of Bahagian Pengurusan Sumber Manusia.

When I reached Bahagian Pengurusan Sumber Manusia, I had the same reaction from the receptionist. The receptionist fetched a female officer and they proceeded to go through the staff directory, insisting that their department didn’t handle this application.

This was despite me showing them the webpage listing “sila berhubung dengan pegawai di Bahagian Pengurusan Sumber Manusia, Pejabat Setiausaha Kerajaan Negeri Selangor di talian terus 03-5544 7671”.

I asked to see Puan Normala and was told she had a guest. I asked if I could see her assistant instead as all I wanted to do was file the form. The woman officer then suggested I file this at MBPJ, but I had just come from there so imagine how annoyed I was at being given the run-around like this.

The receptionist then explained that officers are appointed to handle this in each municipality. When I asked who was responsible for handling freedom of information requests at MBPJ, the officer and the receptionist started looking through online staff directories again.

By then it was 3.40pm and I insisted on filing it there since I had already made the trip to Shah Alam. I asked where I could make payment and they replied they didn’t know.

By that time, I was really upset for being made to run around from department to department and from all the waiting for the officers to sort out how to handle an application form from their website.

Shortly after, a visibly pregnant woman came out to see me and identified herself as the Puan Normala I had called earlier. I complained about how Bahagian Korporat refused to accept the form. Puan Normala then told me to go up to the 17th floor to make payment and then bring the form back to her where she would give it to her colleague in Bahagian Korporat the next day.

I asked why I couldn’t hand it directly to Bahagian Korporat directly since it was on my way out and Puan Normala explained that she just wanted to ensure that my form would not be rejected by the receptionist at Bahagian Korporat again. I told her I’d make payment and drop it off at Bahagian Korporat before leaving and said I would come back up to look for her in the event the department refused to accept the form.

I then took the elevator to the 17th floor. When I finally reached the counter, I asked an enforcement officer sitting there where I could make the payment. He looked at his watch and said the counter had already closed for the day! It was exactly 4pm. He directed me to wait at window No.6 which was unattended.

And I waited. And waited finally a man walked out of a door and when he saw me, he asked what I was there for. He then went behind the counter and said that he could accept payment and started to look for the payment code on a large card.

One woman who identified herself as “Zakiah, penolong akauntan” then explained that since they had already closed the till for the day, they would accept payment but could only issue the receipt the next day. I was really annoyed and asked why I was sent there past the cashier’s operating hours.

I was adamant that I was not returning the next day to Shah Alam for a receipt and asked for it to be emailed. Zakiah insisted it wasn’t far, and that she lived in Petaling Jaya, etc. Then I realised that I wouldn’t be able to submit the form without proof of payment and asked for the return of my form. She offered to call her boss but at that point, I had had enough frustration for one day and walked off to wait for the slowest elevator on the planet. I left SUK about 4.20pm.

I have written down my exasperating experience because I want to ask the Pakatan Harapan politicians: Is the Freedom of Information Enactment just for show? Why did they bother writing this piece of legislation in 2011 if they were not going to ensure a system would be properly set up to handle an actual request?

And to the ADUN who sent me on this misadventure: Did you know I would be given such a runaround?

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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