Monday, 25 November 2013

the importance of knowing the rules

From The Kalahari Typing School For Men by Alexander McCall Smith:
The public office to which she was admitted had that typical look and smell of government offices. The furniture, such as it was, was completely functional-straight-backed chairs and simple two-drawer desks.
This clerk was not bright, and people like that could show a remarkable tenacity when it came to rules. Because they could not distinguish between meritorious and unmeritorious requests, they could refuse to budge from the letter of the regulations. And there would be no point in trying to reason with them. The best tactic was to undermine their certainty as to the rule. If they could be persuaded that the rule was otherwise, then it might be possible to get somewhere. But it would be a delicate task.
“Yes, Rra. I am sure that you are very good when it comes to rules. I am sure that this is the case. But sometimes, when one has to know so many rules, one can get them mixed up. You are thinking of rule 25. This rule is really rule 24(b), subsection (i). That is the rule that you are thinking of. That is the rule which says that no names of pensioners must be revealed, but which does not say anything about addresses. The rule which deals with addresses is rule 18, which has now been cancelled.”

The clerk shifted on his feet. He felt uneasy now and was not sure what to make of this assertive woman with her rule numbers. Did rules have numbers? Nobody had told him about them, but it was quite possible, he supposed.

“How do you know about these rules?” he asked. “Who told you?”

“Have you not read the Government Gazette?” asked Mma Ramotswe. “The rules are usually printed out in the Gazette, for everybody to see. Everybody is allowed to see the rules, as they are there for the protection of the public, Rra. That is important.”

The clerk said nothing. He was biting his lip now, and Mma Ramotswe saw him throw a quick glance over his shoulder.

“Of course,” she pressed on, “if you are too junior to deal with these matters, then I would be very happy to deal with a more senior person. Perhaps there is somebody in the back office who is senior enough to understand these rules.”

The clerk’s eyes narrowed, and Mma Ramotswe knew at that moment that her judgement had been correct: if he called somebody else, he would lose face.

“I am quite senior enough,” he said haughtily. “And what you say about the rules is quite correct. I was just waiting to see if you knew. It is very good that you did. If only more members of the public knew about these rules then our job would be easier.”

“You are doing your job very well, Rra,” said Mma Ramotswe. “I am glad that I found you and not some junior person who would know nothing about the rules.”