The recent rain and the flooding and road closures it caused in Algeria brings back the old topic of efficiency and effectiveness, or rather their absence in the country. It is common to define efficiency as doing things right and effectiveness as doing the right things; and I will use these terms with these definitions in mind but without the economic/monetary aspect they convey. I will actually use them as a way to translate the Arabic “إتقان العمل”.
We keep criticizing the state/government for not doing their job and being useless, and this is true, but let’s for once point our fingers at another direction, towards us the people.
For many years now, we get relatively heavy rainfalls in autumn which lead to flooding, road closures and several casualties. And then we see the cities’ services working on the roads so that such things wouldn’t happen in the future. But alas, nothing really changes and each year seems worse than the past one. Why is it so? Is it because the authorities don’t provide the right finances? Perhaps, but I believe it has more to do with the way the workers do their tasks.
Another example, the International Book Fair of Algiers opened four days ago, and despite it being its 15th edition, its organisation is nowhere close to average. One publishing house (Gallimard) still has its books blocked in the port and another Algerian one had its books completely degraded by the rain in the fair’s warehouse. Even transportation wasn’t arranged for and visitors using public transportation have to walk 1500m before they reach the fair. And while I am talking about books, I remember I am still trying to buy the second volume of Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi‘s autobiography but I am unable to find a book which doesn’t lose its pages. Many other books usually have a range of pages missing. And guess what, I am talking of 1500DZD+ worth books.
A third example, and then I will be done, is around names and spellings. I don’t know about you but I don’t remember I ever had my name written correctly on any official document: the birth certificate, the ID, the passport, the army card, everything. This at least is something I don’t need to struggle for since I left Algeria. These two pictures from ElKhabar illustrate this recurrent imperfection in different environments.
I would talk about what happens every year to the poor pilgrims and how the Algerian religious affairs ministry is unable to take care of them, but I said the above was my last example.
So is the state really the only to blame here? Why are we not doing our tasks correctly? Is it because we’re not qualified enough for the tasks? Or is it simply because we don’t care?
The Algerian education system insists on effectiveness and efficiency and tries to sow them in the young Algerians’ minds. Civic education lessons stress on this point as one of the characteristics of the good citizens the Algerian school wants to make out of our young people (refer to Tayeb Nait Slimane’s declaration here). But it seems the school has pretty much failed (are you surprised?). Let’s be honest, how would you expect the pupils to accept these lessons and practice what they learn when everything they see around them, starting from their own families and teachers and going up to the highest political levels in the country, follows different “rules”?!
The authorities also use Islam (through school and/or mosques) to convince the people that doing their tasks properly is a must (we all were taught this hadith “إن الله يحب إذا عمل أحدكم عملا أن يتقنه”), but nowadays many Algerians are more concerned about the legal length of their beards or robes than they are about the moral values conveyed by Islam. It is actually interesting and quite scary to see how many Algerians are able to separate religion from their worldly affairs whenever they feel like it. I realise we’re secularists in our own way! But this is a different topic…
I think I said it in a previous post, the Algerian communist (call it as you wish) system has deprived the people from their individual feelings. This also deprived them from any sense of responsibility and/or initiative. Working and not working became similar, and so became good work and mediocre one. There was no competition and everybody got they pay at the end of the month regardless of the way they fulfilled their tasks. This led to a big deal of approximation in the way the Algerians worked, and the “bricolage” became the norm. I am not sure this is the unique reason behind our lack of effectiveness and efficiency but I am convinced it had an important influence.
The problem is that things have changed today but we are still in the same bad shape. I was in Algeria a few weeks ago and there I bought Lalla Khedidja mineral water bottles. This brand is the property of Cevital, one of the biggest Algerian industrial groups which aims at becoming an international player. So you’d think quality is important to them and so should customer satisfaction be. They actually have a customer service and all… Anyway, they made that system for an easy opening of the bottles, but I can tell I had to use a knife every time I wanted to open one. The same thing with the Algerian “La Vache qui Rit” cheese which is manufactured by the Algerian branch of the French company. So tell me why does this never happen with the cheese that is made in France?
Another example is with a bleach bottle. I couldn’t find any which could remain still… None of the bottles had a flat bottom. I might be too demanding but for God’s sake, it must be easy to make bottles with flat bottoms!
So we’ve got competition now but the Algerian production quality is still bad. I would like to buy Algerian products but how would I when the cheapest Chinese garments are of a better quality than the most expensive Algerian ones?!
I believe competition is not enough and we actually need the customers/users to complain in an effective way. Yes even our complaints are not efficient/effective. When Gandhi wanted to improve the 2nd (or 3rd) class trains services’ quality, he asked the rich and intellectual Indians to use these classes instead of the 1st one and send as many complaints as possible to the trains company. Same thing here, our complaints are nothing but loud talk which never reach the companies/services we complain about, and that’s what need to change. Look at this example, the bathrooms in this university were flooded but the article indirectly indicates that the students still used them (folding their trousers) instead of complaining!
On the companies/services side, we need to offer incentives to those who do their jobs right and encourage the others to follow the example.
I will finish with this. All the improvement points I mentioned above won’t work if the moral value of doing things right (إتقان العمل) doesn’t live in the Algerians’ minds and hearts. I don’t care whether it’s brought back through Islam or through another vector but we absolutely need it. Today many Algerians accept approximation even in their houses and don’t see anything wrong with it. The “bricolage” and mediocrity became acceptable and noooormal as goes the Algerian saying. And this is where the problem is.