• Mohana Prabhakar

When rules equal chaos

Rules are interesting. While it goes without saying that it would be impossible not to sink into chaos without rules, sometimes there are rules that make you think they were designed to promote chaos.

A simple example. I think it’s a great idea in theory that people should clear their traffic fines before they travel. In holiday season however, this results in complete mayhem at the airport as there is only one counter for paying your fines. It was a source of great pain for me personally (for different reasons) on my last trip out, the day before Eid.

First I was 15th in the queue, with a few more behind, when my husband who had already gone through made me yell out to him the reason why my residence card hadn’t worked at the e-gate. This led the counter chap to notice me and that I was the only woman in the entire queue. I was then called out and made to stand separately in front. It was like I was six again and being punished in front of the whole class.

Rules and common sense also need not be mutually exclusive, as unfortunately they often seem to be. Ages ago when I had my passport renewed in India, by some mistake, my ECNR stamp was not there. ECNR equals Emigration Check Not Required and this is a default stamp for all college degree holders in India. This was put into place mainly to prevent unskilled labour from being abused and it’s a great rule.

There I was, on seventh heaven because the magazine I worked with had chosen me, just a middling level reporter, to go to Hong Kong to interview Bill Gates – and suddenly I need this stamp to travel with three days togo.

So I go with my degree certificate with forms filled in triplicate as you do, but the man says it will take five days. Why? Because that’s the rule and we need to check everything is ok. Like what? That I am not a domestic worker being enticed into slavery? The passport officer is here, my certificate is here, why not do it in two? I got my passport finally in two days but after my company pulled a million strings.

Two reasons why this came to mind. One, Bill Gates would never get a job permit in Oman as he doesn’t have a degree and two, a new rule regarding degree certificates.

How many of the really successful business houses of yesteryear had graduates, let alone master’s degree holders at the helm? Why can a man, not be able to take charge of a media company for instance, if he does not have a degree?

Look at the new rule. Irrespective of the fact that I am reasonably conversant with the three Rs, I now have to prove my eligibility. Not to my employer, but to an institution that has no connection with me in any way or my levels of competence.

A recent, but older rule, was about getting your education certificates attested by your home government, not just your home embassy here. Fair enough. The new rule says that even if you have your certificates attested, if your university/college is not registered with the Ministry of Higher Education, it means nothing.

Now, unsurprisingly, there are almost 108 universities in the UK on the list, some so obscure that you may have to take a train from Platform 93/4 to get to them. For India, the list is equally long but completely ignores some of the oldest and most reputable institutions in the country. For example, my university, Calcutta University doesn’t exist. But I shouldn’t complain as there are countries that don’t exist on this list, like Sri Lanka, Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and so on. This affects both expats and Om


A lovely phrase used by people who are implementing rules is: ‘I’m just doing my job.’ But who said you should leave rational thought and logic at home?

Take the men who came to do their routine inspection of one of the best luxury hotels in Muscat. They walked away saying that unless all the ashtrays had the hotel logo (as their list - probably from the 1800s - decreed), this couldn’t be a five star hotel.

And then there was my friend who had to build a door in her open space office following an official visit, before she could get her investor’s visa.

Do your job, but please stop and think first.

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