Saturday, May 20, 2006

When the drug tests come back, somebody in Billing is soooooo fired ...

You've got to love State-owned monopolies. To err is human, but to really screw up you have to get the government involved. Better yet a government-owned telecomms monopoly like Telekom Malaysia Bhd.

It seems that a Malaysian from northern Kedah state named Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January and settled the 84 ringgit ($23) bill. But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a 806,400,000,000,000.01 ringgit ($218 trillion) bill for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings. Thats a fistfull of ringgits!

To put this in perspective, $218 trillion is quite a bit more than the sum of the entire world's GDP (or GWP if you want to be specific, which is around $50 trillion) let alone the Malaysian GDP. You know, sometimes there are errors that seem so egregious that you figure someone, somewhere along the line should have caught them. But never underestimate the entrenched stupidity of government bureaucrats (or the fallibility of their computers).

Mr. Wahab seems to be a sensible man; he said exactly what I would have (this of course, being my benchmark for sensibility). He told a local paper "If the company wants to seek legal action as mentioned in the letter I'm ready to face it. In fact I can't wait to face it."

One of the Telekom Malaysia aparatchiki (who wisely declined to be identified as she was not authorized to speak to the media) said Telekom Malaysia was aware of Yahaya's case and would address it. I'm sure they are. But your average telecomms bureaucrat is unlikely to lift a finger to do anything, unless maybe it's to point it at someone else.

You have to give the press credit for admitting that "It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after after his death." But you do have to wonder just how many phone calls it would take, between January when the last bill was paid and now, to create a $218 trillion phone bill.

I hope Telekom Malaysia hasn't started spending on infrastructure improvements while waiting for Mr. Wahab to pay his bill.