FAMILIARIZING yourself with the landscape will help. Here now are some tips to help you through the chase.
1. Know your rights.
You can quote the law in the first instance that you make your request. Or reserve that for a follow-up, if your first request is thumbed down. You could also copy-furnish the Office of the Ombudsman with your request, such as what some journalists do. That way, the office that you are obtaining the papers from knows that you are very well aware of how it works: they refuse to give you access to a public document, they could get into trouble with the Ombudsman.
2. Mind those manners.
You may have those moments when you wished you could simply scream at the person at the other end of the line: Just. Give. Me. That. Paper! That wish comes with a mental image: of you hurling the person across the room, or flailing your copy of the Constitution at the person’s face, all the while reciting a litany of the provisions of the law. When that mental image comes flashing, grit your teeth, take a breath, and chill. It will not do you much good to lose your temper, given all the other circumstances making that document as elusive as the Holy Grail.
Besides, good manners are still considered important in these parts, and when it happens that you end up antagonizing the person at the other end, you might altogether lose that chance of getting that paper. Just take out the rage on your friends over dinner during the weekend.
3. Remember that it’s not about you.
Keep in mind that, often, when the government personnel handling your request either dilly-dallies or is not being efficient, it’s not that she does not like the sound of your voice or the cut of your jaw so she’d like to give you a hard time. It is simply that the approval of your request is taking time, for any of the reasons that we have said before. There might still be exceptions, in which case you just have to be keen, and change that tone a bit and remember what we said in number 2.
4. Have a little more faith in the system.
And in the people who are earnestly trying to do their job. The information infrastructure may be low-tech but when the personnel are skilled, honest and efficient then there will be ways by which you will get the information that you need. You can do so much—find the right offices, write those perfectly-worded letters to the right people, make those well-mannered calls, or mildly harangue the staff—and still not be able to get it. Step back a bit then and let them do their job.
5. Let go of ego.
Remember that the important thing is that you get that document. You lose nothing if you deflate that ego. It is less important that you get that document overnight, exactly how fast you want it, than that you get it, period. If the government office wants time, give them time. If they want you to make calls to three different people in an hour just to trace where in heaven’s name your request now is, make each call as if it were a favorite thing.
Do what they require you to, as long as they know that you are still there, ready to get that call soon that finally says, “Have someone collect the SALs.” Or better, “Bring your flash drive and have the pdf files of the case papers copied.” Or, “Oh but those papers are online.” Mostly a dream at this point, that one. Maybe some day.