Featured image courtesy Sanka Vidanagama, Getty images
When I entered the Ministry of External Affairs to get my education certificates validated, I was pleasantly surprised to see the orderly queue the crowd had formed. It was, admittedly, a form of musical chairs without the music, but it worked. The queue moved along regularly, and I was getting closer to the lady who would give me my application form.
What happened next may not come as much of a surprise to you. As it was about to be my turn, a burly Special Task Force man, decked out in full uniform including cap, stepped in front of me and shoved his documents through the window. I paused, thinking there must be good reason for this intrusion; perhaps he was on urgent state business. Instead, he summoned his ‘nangi’ from somewhere outside the queue and told the lady behind the counter that the documents belonged to his sister. I was irritated to say the least but held my peace. Fortunately for all, the disruption of the process was short-lived and within a few minutes I was attended to.
However, the next stage in this authentication process for everyone getting documents validated at the ministry was to go down two floors, and hand over their application forms at another set of counters. I was given token number 216, and alas they were only at number 98 when I arrived. Like everyone else in the room, I sat down and patiently waited my turn. Once again, what happened next does not require much imagination, although it is depressing that we have become so accustomed to it. The STF member strolled in whilst number 111 was called up, with his sister in tow, and ambled straight up to a counter. There he weaseled his way next to a customer being served, and once again shoved his documents through.
At this point I said something to the lady sitting next to me, about the blatant disregard for queuing, order and process in general. Apparently I wasn’t the only one fuming at his exploitation of whatever authority his uniform gave him, as those in front of me turned and echoed similar sentiments. Some people had been waiting for almost an hour, and watched helplessly as someone in power showed them the rules apply unequally. I can safely assume this STF officer angered, to some extent, at least 105 people, who from their seats in the queue, observed this unfolding. However, short of marching up to him and asking for his staff number there was really nothing we could do.
What upset me the most was that this culture of impunity- whether arbitrarily arresting people, or having no consideration for those who have waited their turn for a government service- appears not to have sufficiently changed with the change in government. This despite ‘ending a culture of impunity’ being at the centre of its many promises. When I voted for change I voted for law and order. However, when those officers representing the law have absolutely no concern for order, it sends a disheartening message to the ordinary man watching.