Using cell phones in government offices

| 13/02/2019
Ask Auntie, CNS Local Life, Caymanian status

Does Auntie know why various government departments seem to adopt “regulations” without any rhyme or reason? The use of cell phones being the major one since they are quite ubiquitous these days.

No taking of pictures in the post office is one that always baffled me. The post office in central George Town is an example of beautiful Caymanian architecture from days gone by. Is there some deep dark secret hidden in the rafters that you can take away with a picture? Or are they simply afraid that someone may snap a photo of an employee asleep at their post?

The Department of Vehicle and Drivers’ Licensing (DVDL) is another fine example. They provide a TV with volume sufficiently loud for everyone in the room to hear, but you can’t whisper on your phone to someone. After waiting five or six hours for your number to be called, you are forced to go outside to receive a call where you run the risk of one of the two people behind the six counters calling your number and then you have to go back the next day and start all over again.

Can you make a blanket request to all government agencies with a “no cell phone policy” to state the reasons for it? If it is a distraction from the public servant doing his/her duty then that is understandable, but that certainly does NOT apply at the DVDL.

Auntie’s answer: A recent column on the lack of wifi at one area of Owen Roberts International Airport (see No wifi at airport arrivals hall) prompted a commenter to ask these questions. Asking every department about their cell-phone policy was not feasible so I concentrated on the two that were mentioned and, for good measure, I enquired about the rules at the Government Administration Building.

Starting with the post office, I contacted Sheena Glasgow, who has been the Postmaster General since 2003. She explained that she inherited the policy prohibiting photography in the post office, but “there have been occasions where we have discovered after-the-fact, security-sensitive photos that were taken inside postal facilities”, though she declined to elaborate. Due to those incidents, the ban of photos was kept in place; however, she added, “Personally, I don’t object to photos being taken of the General Postal Office’s ceiling; it is photos of other sensitive areas that remain of concern to me.”

One other point that Ms Glasgow wanted to make about picture taking in the George Town Post Office. She said she has “long been verbally advocating that the government move the Postal Service out and turn this building over to the museum as I consider that a more appropriate use of this building”. I like that idea, though Ms Glasgow also observed that relocating would require a large investment as that branch is the second largest postal facility as well as the headquarters for the Postal Service, adding “the government has more urgent priorities to fund than my suggestion”.

As to customers talking on their phones, she noted that counter staff from the various post offices have shared their concerns about “difficulties in communicating with and properly serving customers when they are actively engaged in a cell phone conversation while at the public counter”. Ms Glasgow pointed out this issue would be the same for other businesses.

If I may add my own two cents here, I completely empathise with counter staff everywhere who have to deal with people are talking on the phone while being helped. I understand sometimes that a call must be answered, especially if it is urgent, but if I am forced to wait while someone is randomly yakking on the phone to a friend, I admit to fighting a strong temptation to rip it out of their hand. But, just to be clear, I have yet to do that.

An official at DVDL acknowledged that at times the wait can be long at the department, but said that “too often …customers are distracted on their phones, and when their number is called, they don’t hear it”. When that happens, after a while the customer realises they missed their turn because a subsequent number has been called.

“This can be a frustrating experience,” the official said, “especially when we then have to tell the customer that we will have to serve them after we are finished serving the customer that came in after them, but who is now leaving before them.”

However, though talking on the phone is not allowed, the DVDL does offer free wifi, allowing customers “alternative means of communicating on their phones in an effort to ‘ease the wait’”.

CNS Local Life
Government Administration Building phone area

Finally, over at the Government Administration Building, several departments operate in the main reception area and “the noise echoes making it difficult to hear and to continue conducting business”, a Facilities Management Department spokesperson explained.

But by the front entrance there is a bank of phones for the public to use and an area designated for cell phones (see photo).

“As long as you are not in the main lobby you can speak freely on phones. This includes areas such as the entry foyer or art gallery area, or in the areas where seating is provided in the open lobby which is away from the main kiosk,” the spokesperson said.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    So now if we could just get CIG staff off their cellies while serving, perhaps that would mean less waiting time for the public too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is actually a great question and response. Kudos auntie