There has got to be a better way

Edit: Basically this is a post about me taking a taxi driver’s word for it when he told me there is no New Zealand embassy in Kathmandu… although it doesn’t really change the gist as the Honorary Consulate’s hours are 10.00-12.00.

I am in Nepal and I have just cast my special vote by fax. It took me five hours and cost me nearly $60. I am happy to have exercised my civic duty but think that there has to be a better way.

At 1.00pm this afternoon I printed off my special voting papers at an internet cafe in Kathmandu. Filling them out I looked at the witnessing requirements. It listed the types of people qualified to witness my declaration. These were:

  • commonwealth representative
  • person authorised to take a statutory declaration in New Zealand
  • commissioner of oaths
  • notary public
  • person approved by the returning officer
  • person authorised to administer an oath for the purpose of a judicial proceeding in the country in which the declaration is made
  • relative, or member of the household, or business colleague or associate, of the special voter
  • registered New Zealand elector

Looking down the list I didn’t see any that might be relevant to me. I wasn’t travelling with any other New Zealanders. I considered asking the person sitting next to me in the internet cafe if they would care to witness my vote as a ‘business associate’. Perhaps I could sell him my pen to make him a legiti business associate? No, I decided to play it safe so I called the electoral office in New Zealand.

A very helpful woman answered the phone. I explained that I was having trouble finding a witness and could she help me?

“If you don’t have your declaration witnessed your vote will be invalid,” she told me.

“Yes, thank you I was aware of that. I’m calling to ask you if you could help me by suggesting where I might find a witness.”

“Well you could go to the New Zealand embassy.”

“New Zealand doesn’t have an embassy in Nepal.”

“Oh. Perhaps you could go to the Nepalese embassy?”

“Excuse me? Why would there be a Nepalese embassy in Nepal?”

“Oh. Right. Sorry. What about the Australian embassy?”

“They could help me?”

“Yes you could get a commonwealth representative to witness it.”

“What is a commonwealth representative?”

“Someone like the ambassador.”

“Ok thank you, you’ve been most helpful.”

Next I called the Australian embassy to see if they could help me. After I had explained my problem I was put on hold while the office clerk checked with his superior. A few minutes later the clerk told me that although the ambassador was not at the embassy today the deputy ambassador would be happy to witness my declaration. I thanked him and told him I would come to the embassy immediately.

I paid for the printing and the internet and went to look for a taxi.

Total so far: 100 Nepalese rupees (NZ$1.60). Time: 2.00pm.

The taxi out to the embassy cost 300 rupees and took 30 minutes.

Total so far: 400 rupees. Time: 2.30pm.

At the Australian embassy I was taken through security and shown to a waiting room. I flicked through a coffee table book called Australian Disaster Management while I waited. Five minutes later a consular official called Damien appeared on the other side of a glass window of the type they have in banks.

“So you just want me to witness this?” he asked.

“Yes, I called about half an hour ago and was told to come down. Shall I sign it now?”

“Yes. You know there is a charge for witnessing signatures?”

“No I didn’t.”

“Ah well there is.”

He shuffled awkwardly and looked at the office clerk, “how much is it?”

“It is 2400 rupees,” the clerk replied, smiling embarrassedly.

“I don’t have that much money, do you take credit card?” I asked.

“No we don’t but there is an ATM nearby,” the clerk told me.

I returned shortly afterwards with the money. Damien apologised for charging me. I didn’t reply. The clerk wrote me a receipt and also apologised: “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you on the phone.”

“I wouldn’t have come out here if you had told me beforehand.”

He handed me back my witnessed declaration. Instead of ticking the box “commonwealth representative”, Damien had created a new category at the bottom which he had ticked called “Australian embassy diplomat and consular official”.

“I’m sorry I don’t think you can create new categories on official voting papers, can you please ask him to tick ‘consular official’?” I asked the clerk.

He returned with the amended declaration.

“Would you be so kind as to fax this for me now?”

“Sorry no.”

Total so far: 2800 rupees. Time: 3.00pm.

I left and caught a taxi back to Thamel. This cost another 300 rupees and took an hour in the traffic.

Total so far: 3100 rupees. Time: 4.00pm.

I started looking for an internet cafe that had a fax machine. This turned out to be rather difficult. Eventually I found one and tried the fax number supplied on the declaration. It wouldn’t go through. I tried another internet cafe with the same result – the line was continuously busy. I called back the electoral office. This time the phone was answered by a man.

“Hi there, I’m trying to fax through my special voter declaration but am having trouble with the fax line. I think there is a problem with it. I’ve tried it from two different fax lines here so I think the trouble is at your end.”

“No the fax line is working,” he told me. “I know because faxes are coming through all the time. You’ll just have to keep trying.”

“You mean there’s just one line for all the special votes? Is there another line I could try?”

“Look mate, just be patient. I was about to tell you another number to try before you interupted me.”

I bit my tongue while he gave me another fax line to try. I hung up on him and tried this other line. This line was also busy but I perservered and after several dozen attempts the fax finally went through. Success. The fax and phone call cost me another 400 rupees. It was 6.00pm.

Total expenditure: 3500 rupees, or $56.63 (not including the ATM fees for withdrawing the money for the witnessing fee). Time expended: 5 hours.

Looking back, it was an extremely frustrating afternoon. I want to take my civic duty to vote seriously but don’t see why it had to be such a mammoth undertaking.

The witnessing requirements for special voting are totally beyond me. Obviously it’s not the Electoral Commission’s fault that the Australian Embassy charged me such an exorbitant fee to witness my declaration but I don’t see why they have those restrictive categories in the first place. And having to fax your declaration in? Fax machines are a throwback to the ’90s – hell even in a country like Nepal they are relics. The man in the internet cafe actually blew dust off it and had to plug it in before he used it. Why are we not allowed to scan and email back our completed voting forms? As for the people manning the phones at the New Zealand election agencies, I don’t even want to comment.

I hope you have all voted today. I bet it won’t be as much of a mission as I had. Or has anyone else had similar problems casting their vote?


5 Comments on “There has got to be a better way”

  1. Chris says:

    Wow, well done persevering through all of that. I guess you might not have with foresight, I know I wouldn’t have.

  2. Terence Hayden says:

    Ah. But Democracy is priceless.

  3. samcwallace says:

    Jaislemer is devoid of any fax machine and the nearest consulate is 14 hours away. I have now forgone by civic duty but feel as though the country will most probably be better off without my currently ill-informed opinion.

    Reading this it made me shamefully glad that I have not aggressively attempted to vote. I can picture you in internet cafes and the embassy waiting room pacing back and forth pink faced; ready to explode a la Daniel Double Guns Dwight Dwyer.

    Profound persistence though.

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