Colleen Figg

The government mindset

2009-04-24 12:38

Colleen Figg

I recently had a memorable run-in with the local electricity department. I had just moved into our apartment and was told that I had to register at the electricity department and put down a deposit to get the electricity account into my name.

The first month an envelope arrived, addressed to "The Occupant"; whom I reasonably assumed was yours truly.

I toddled off to the Department with the bill only to be told that I couldn't pay it because I wasn't The Occupant and the envelope was clearly made out to The Occupant.

I then contended (rather logically and completely fairly as far as I was concerned) that I was, indeed, The Occupant and had been for the last month: they could check with the landlord.

A woman behind the counter looked in boredom at me through the dingy window when I said this.

Hardy types

It was abundantly clear to her that I was NOT The Occupant, since my surname is FIGG and not Occupant - so why was I wasting her time trying to claim to be someone I wasn't?

In the old South Africa, we will all remember having had to contend with government workers who had spent the last twenty years in service of the state, learning various clauses, paragraphs and sub-clauses by rote.

These were hardy types, who could not and would not be swayed by eloquent argument or reasonable debate. This woman was cut from the same cloth - in fact I think she was a hangover from that era because there was no way on earth that she would accept what I was trying to say; viz that since I lived in the flat I must be the bloody occupant!!

With an air of finality and a stamp on the paper she told me I would have to stand in line 3 and go and pay an amount of R850 in order to have my name put on the account instead of that of the increasingly elusive Occupant.

This Occupant, by now, had taken on a personality of his own and wasn't about to be usurped by me - he had his own account and now I must create mine.

It is rare that I am unable to volley back a convincing argument - my Irish ancestors must've kissed plenty of blarney stones because usually I am able to persuade the person I am arguing with that I am, indubitably, in the right and they are, squarely, in the wrong! Not so with The stubborn Occupant and his champion, the woman in the government issue uniform!

I went reeling off; trying to process this amazing turn of events and the woman fell to seeing to others, presumably with as many complex and convoluted problems as I had had.

Flawless logic

She despatched them all with blithe ease - I mean when your centre of logic is as flawed as hers clearly was - what argument can a reasonable person ever offer; truly?

I went into rebellion mode and trudged back home to my grungy flat where The Occupant lurked, smugly. I glared at him and told him to leave; but he wasn't having any of it.

A month or two later I was sent a FINAL DEMAND which said that my electricity would be cut off if I didn't pay in four days.

I phoned them to tell them they had the wrong person: I was Colleen Figg and not The Occupant. Therefore, using their own flawless logic, I didn't owe a cent to the Department.

Ja. It affects us all, in the end. The Government Mindset.

Send your comments to Colleen.

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