It will take no time at all now.
At lunch time I rang Joe, who blithely informed me the document had been sitting on his desk waiting for me to collect. Into a taxi I leap, and off through Suva to Walu Bay. Joe is standing at the door waiting with the precious piece of green paper in his hand. Back to the taxi and off again, all the way out past Nabua to Valelevu, headquarters of the LTA. They have a huge fenced compound with security guards.
There should be a big sign up over the gate: "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here".
I arrive at 1.25. The testing station is closed for lunch from 1 to 2. The main office across the lot is open through lunch, but that is not where I need to go at this time. I wait patiently. At 2pm I see K who checks all the documentation, double checks engine numbers and scrawls notations. OK. Now to the cashiers. There is one cashier in the office. The other is late back from lunch.
Guess what?. There is only one clerk in Suva who can process first-time vehicle registrations. No one else can do this task.
Guess what else? She is late back from lunch.
I wait, and wait, until, at about 2.23 she casually wanders in. K and the manager had invited me inside the office to wait , and had been fussing over me since I arrived. Now they advise her that they would like her to process my motorcycle registration. She is clearly not impressed. I guess that when one is the only person with a particular ability, one can feel secure in one’s position They had seated me behind her. Bad move, I should have joined the queue. She ignored the request from the two of them, ignored me ,and started processing the people in the queue, all the members of which had arrived at the time she did. I was about to go around and a join the queue too when the manager intervened once more.
Reluctantly she accepted the charge and scrutinised the documents carefully, determined to find something the others had missed, something that would derail the process. As she did so, the phone rang. Several times. So did her own personal cellphone. Each time, she answered and had a long chat. She always spoke in language, but by now my keen language skills have enabled me to get the gist of the conversation.
"Call me back in a couple of minutes again please, I have this vavalaqi here, and I am trying to get his goat."
" yes I know. I know. They are the most fun. Now we have beaten the taxi drivers into a cowering submission, the real game is the vavalaqi".
"OK talk to you again shortly".
Finally, she looks up triumphantly. She had found what she was looking for. She also looks at the clock, and her triumphant grin broadens. I have no idea why at this stage. However I was beginning to have the first gnawings of concern in the pit of my stomach. This could be bad for my weekend dreams.
"This", she says, " is a Self Import". You need M’s signature. Over at the other office".
Ok, off to the other office, Remarkably there are not many people waiting and I am seen at the counter quite promptly. I show my pile of documents,
"You need M’s signature on this"
"Come through the door and I will see if she can see you". She vanishes with my forms.
I walk through the door indicated, and around a corner, where a woman asks me to sit. I do. And wait.
A woman comes out and says " Mr Freshwater?"
"These documents are all in order, but where is your letter? I assume she is M.
"The letter requesting the director to register your vehicle".
"I have just filled out a form requesting the director to register my bike. Why does he need a letter?"
" Because you imported the motorcycle yourself".
This makes no sense to me at all, but I am willing to go along with it.I have learned the hard way that logic and reason make no headway here.
"What form should the letter take please?"
She is impatient.
"Just write a letter asking the director to register the bike. On paper. And sign it". Then she adds
"Oh, and mention that you brought the vehicle in whole, as a unit."
It seems that this might actually be the point of the letter, if there is one. Anything else I wonder?
"If you have a piece of paper I will write it now. Then you can tell me exactly what to say and I will be sure I get it right".
She gives a trapped look. the sort one sees in someone who wants to be somewhere else but can’t think of a way to get out.
I fold my arms, and look implacable. I have cultivated the implacable look, but rarely get to use it.
She gives some invisible signal, and after a moment or two, during which I wonder if they are just going to do the ignore me thing until I go away, someone brings me a piece of photocopy paper.
"To whom do I address it?"
She tells me the title and position, and location of the Director, and tells me to write that I declare that I imported the motorcycle as a unit, and I request the Director to register it. I do so, adding the word "respectfully" before request.
She reads it, staples it on the bottom of the growing pile of papers, scrawls on the top one,and hands it back to me.
"Ok to get registered now?"
" Isn’t the Director going to read my letter?"
Stop it Alan.. Cut and Run. Now.
I try to leave but can’t, because the doors are locked.
A security guard shows me to a rear entrance.
It seems this office closes at three. My sense of foreboding strengthens.
A suspicion gradually creeping up through the gnawings of concern in the pit of my stomach.
I hurry back over to the office at the testing station, There are still people being "served". It is now 3.05.
"What time does this office close?"
I wait for her to finish with the young man with the shiny apple green boy racer car. We had been talking earlier, sharing LTA horror stories, and commiserating. Maybe we should not have done so within earshot of the clerk (note to self – shut the feck up).
I half expected her to put up the "This Window Closed" sign, But no. She takes my papers. But yes. "I can’t register your vehicle today, They put away the registration book at three".
She is very carefully keeping her face neutral, but I know she is enjoying this.
The manager is behind her. I turn to him.
"You promised we would have this sorted this afternoon". I said. I was here at 1.30. I can’t believe it is so complicated".
. I am careful not to mention inefficiency, or anything that might be construed as blame.
"Get the book back".
At 3.20 the book appears and she painstakingly fills it out, Line by line, entry by entry, with the same information she has already copied from the forms, typing into the computer. She is still stopping now and then to make or receive a phone call.
Everything in the office is computerised, except the actual important stuff. I did not ask why. I am sure there is a Very Good Reason.
I have by now sussed out how they get round the catch 22. They will tell me the new registration number, but not give me the plate until I return with the the third party insurance papers. As I mentioned previously, I cannot get 3rd party until I have a licence plate number, and cannot be licensed until I have 3rd party.
At last she completes her jottings. She hands me a paper, and asks for money, which I hand over. I now have a registration number. 569E.
My most ingratiating smile, "Will you please, please wait while I dash across the road to Sun Insurance? I wont be long, Please?".
The slightest, barely perceptible indication of assent. Only someone married to a Melanesian for 25 years would know it, but I had her reluctant agreement.
It was at this point that I made my big mistake. As I joyously rushed across the road, to pay $40 to Mr Biswa Jeet Lal, of Sun insurance, I allowed myself to BELIEVE. I believed fully and with all my soul that at last I had made it. I actually thought that I would be soon be cheerfully riding a Honda CBF. That in fact, very evening I could go anywhere I chose.. I truly thought I would be able to go for a ride, a swim and a schnorkel somewhere far away from the house the very next day, on what was promising to be (and so turned out) a very fine Saturday indeed. I foolishly allowed myself to HOPE. I had TRUST.
In no time at all, I was back with a new document in a plastic pouch.
She handed me three more forms, "You have to fill these out and get an inspection. Come back Monday. We should have closed at three". It was her moment of triumph, and of my utter defeat. She had kept her promise, and blown me away. But still I could not accept it. I did not want to believe that there was yet another incarnation of Catch 22 to deal with.
I could not give up. But I only made it worse. "More bloody forms?" I asked.
There was a collective gasp from the ladies. "Sorry, more darn forms?
But there they were.
Motor Vehicle record Update Form – Which has spaces for all the information already on three of the other forms I already filled out.
Road user levy Form which repeats it all once again.
Vehicle Inspection Request Form. Request for an inspection that has already taken place
Accompanying this is the vehicle inspection form.
"But I have already had the inspection. Look!" I indicated the form that K had completed when he did the inspection.
"You still have to fill out this form". She indicated the request form and showed me the vehicle inspection form attached, which it turns out is NOT the form that K filled out when he inspected the vehicle. This is yet a different form, but once again with all the same items on it as the checklist or whatever that K had used when he checked the bike, and which is now one of my pile of documents.
At last I realised that I was beaten.
So here is what I have learned>
In order to register a new vehicle in Fiji, one has to queue multiple times, fill out multiple forms, each of which is then minutely re-examined by the next official. The forms all gather thje same information and are NOT explained or presented in any logical or systematic way, or even made available right from the start. The first time one hears of some of them is when the particular bureaucrat who "needs" it requests it of one.
Most of the forms gather duplicate data so it ends up with the same being information being entered on different forms over and over again, and then once more.
There is no explanatory note to detail all the steps one must go through.
It is inefficient, uneconomical, highly time consuming, and fecking frustrating.
One must queue to pay no less than four separate fees at three separate times, (five counting the third party insurance fee). The costs are not too high, but the inefficiency of not have a single payment astounds me.
I have paid so far a first registration application fee, an inspection fee, and new number plate issue fee. I have paid a 3rd party insurance fee. I still have two more fees to pay, the registration fee of about $40, and another of about the same for road tax, or wheel tax. Whatever.
Taxis drivers tell me that on registration day they have to plan on an entire day at the LTA.
That sounds like hell to me.
There are helpful people at the LTA
There are competent people there
There are friendly people.
There are even efficient people
Here is a picture of the staff with ALL those qualities: