It is little wonder that there is so much confusion in dealing with officialdom. I met this week with a District Official, who appeared unable to calculate three times a simple number successfully – and is ready to take poor math to court. He confused 2001 with 2011 (constantly switching between two oh oh one and twenty eleven, apparently meaning the same thing, but I am still not certain) and insisted on shouting about the ‘dis-ding’. He wanted the ‘dis-ding’, and it was about the ‘dis-ding’. Finally, after 30 minutes of frustration I exploded with ‘What is a [expletive] dis-ding?’ His response blew me away ‘ IT IS ENGLISH LANGUAGE, DIS DING IS ENGLISH’.
Excuse me, but I will no longer sit in any office or meeting to be lectured about ‘dis-dings’ and ‘dat-dings’. If people cannot put together a proper English sentence, especially when they represent the ‘Administration’, we have a problem.
The official concerned took such offence at my insistence that ‘There is no such thing as a dis-ding, it is [bovine droppings], just tell me what you mean’, resulted in him raising his hand to me, and my leaving his office. He continued to shout into the corridor that ‘dis-ding is proper English’ – his colleagues all came out and supported him. A lost case for development.
No wonder we have upsets, confusion and misunderstandings – no wonder people decide that development in the rural areas is too challenging. Thank goodness my team has the constitution to fight, and to move forwards.
Imagine in Aviation that we were to make a radio call ‘Accra Approach dis be Niner Golf Dis-ding, we are heading towards da Dat-ding, at Dis-ding foots and with an estimate of Dis-ding arrival’. Well, it would be the beginning of the end of safety!
In workshops we do not allow the use of ‘dis-ding’ or ‘dat-ding’. They are banned words. If the person cannot express clearly their meaning or request, then it leads to accidents and potentially deaths. We must express ourselves clearly – it is a functional part of communication.
I cannot ask for a dis-ding, when I really want a Cleco-plier. Or a dat-ding when my need is for a torque-wrench. The first few months of any apprentices life in the workshop is related to knowing the names of tools, their differences between and uses – and there are hundreds of them to learn.
Aviation is pretty clear cut, the rules and regulations are clearly available and we find few surprises in our lives around the airport, the planes and the systems involved. The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority is very good at explaining everything that is needed, from paper-work to inspections, and the charges related to them are clearly published. There are no ‘dis-dings’ and no ‘dat-dings’ to create confusion! GCAA is clearly one of the most organised units in Ghana, and we should all be proud of that. They functionally treat the airlines, pilots and others as CUSTOMERS and treat them accordingly. It is generally very pleasant dealing with the Aviation arm of the Administration.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for much of the other day-to-day administration that we come across. It appears to me that we have rules and regulations that appear from nowhere, are not explained and charges that have no basis – and when you ask for the basis you get told that it is a ‘dis-ding’. How many times do we have to re-register, re-submit, re-do and re-pay? There appears to be a major lack of clarity – which I believe leads to misunderstandings, frustrations, anger and upsets. It appears that too many Authority figures forget that civilians and businesses are CUSTOMERS of the Administration – yes, CUSTOMERS – and should be treated as such. CUSTOMER CARE is needed – including making life clearer!
Surely, if our Aviation sector can be so clear, functional and customer centric, other sectors should too. We have to come back to the challenge of literacy. I do not mean the ability to read and write – I mean the ability to read and understand, write and express clearly what is meant. These skills are lacking, and as we have seen in recent high profile discussions in the media, there appears to be a national challenge in completing forms and signing them in the right place, even by those in every level of officialdom. I do not believe that the majority of mistakes are intentional – I really believe that a lot of good intention goes into these things. However, there are those who try to take advantage of their position and advantage of the ‘hidden rules’ that they seem to be able to conjure up with a simple ‘dis-ding’ or ‘dat-ding’. It is sad that an official who makes a mistake is ‘excused’, but those outside of the officialdom castle quickly get labelled as ‘criminals’ or ‘miscreants’. Perhaps there is too much of a ‘big-man-complex’ that goes with appointments to certain offices?
I have had too many run-ins with people over the appropriate use of language – and the avoidance of confusion. However, I am reminded that ‘if they have an office, then they must be more powerful than me’. It is simple, there are words to be used to explain, and if you do not know the words, and cannot explain yourself clearly to a third party, you may well be in the wrong position!
I really believe that our systems are failing in many areas, due to lack of real understanding, and the exploitation of ‘complicate in order to facilitate’ – in other words ‘try not to let the general public know how it all should work, so that the bamboozle brigade can profit’.
It is not just words, it is also a numbers game. Amounts conjured out of a hat, deliberate miscalculations and the like that are reminiscent of medieval Europe. It seems that the more smoke and mirrors, blended with dis-dings and dat-dings, that can be moved around, the more people that can be hoodwinked by the creative minds of those who are not focused on the growth of the nation, but rather the growth of their personal resources – or some other agenda!
In the UK, which is very multi-cultural, they have the ‘Crystal Mark’, a mark that demonstrates that a document is clearly written. Many official documents, especially those issued to the general public and businesses, seek the Crystal Mark, due to a customer-centric approach to the British Administration. If the client understands, then the client is more likely to comply – it is simple to understand, but not so easy to implement!
The criteria for a document to obtain a Crystal mark may include:
- the use of ‘everyday’ English;
- consistent and correct use of punctuation and grammar;
- plenty of ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’ verbs;
- explanations of technical terms;
- good use of lists;
- words like ‘we’ and ‘you’ instead of ‘the Society’ or ‘the applicant’;
- clear, helpful headings, which stand out from the text;
- All steps explained, and made clear, avoiding ambiguity; etc.
Perhaps it is time to campaign for more customer care, clarity, honesty and co-operation to avoid the apparent cycle of mistrust, misunderstanding and the consequent negative impact on developments, particularly in dealings with the Administrative offices of Government.
Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org )