Friday, April 27, 2012

How government services should behave

The Singapore Public Utility Board are rockstars.

I arrived home tonight at 11:00 pm to find no water in my taps. No water. Until that actually happens you have no idea how fundamental it is to your life.

I called the apartment building's 24-hour helpline, only to be told unhelpfully - five calls and three maintenance guys later - that it was my problem, not theirs. Their weird reason was that it was just one flat and not the whole floor. By then it was almost midnight and I still had no water. I had a fight with the guy who told me this, hung up and wandered outside my flat, looking at the stuff there for the tenth time, hoping to spot some magic valve I hadn't seen before. There were none - the only meter outside my door is for electricity; I've never seen the water meter.

I checked online for 24-hour plumbers and found several. Then I registered that if all the taps were dry, it was probably not a plumbing issue but one of supply, which would make it either vandalism or a mistake. Either way, I needed the support of some sort of authority. In any case, I was reluctant to hand over a hundred dollars to a bunch of plumbers for something they may not be able to solve. So I went to the SP Services website and called the first phone number I saw. I eventually got someone who told me I'd called the wrong place. But - and this is a very big but - he didn't stop there. He asked me: "but tell me what assistance you want". So I told him my story and he said he would leave a message for one of the Public Utility Board guys to drop by and check. I thought he meant in the morning, but 40 minutes later, I heard water in the kitchen sink (I had, of course, left the tap on in my dismay). And three minutes after I'd turned it off and done grateful raindances, a PUB engineer arrived at my door to tell me I should inform my building management somebody's messing around in the water meter area and playing with the valves.

It was government service in the best sense. He did not even let me tip him.

Update at 7:30 am: The kinder of the building maintenance guys I had spoken to last night did show up early, as he had promised.

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