Huduma Centres working, but do more to improve service delivery

It is fair to say that the delivery of government services through Huduma Centres has markedly increased public service efficiency. However, gaps still exist in the system that contributes to an incredible wastage of people-hours as Kenyans queue for days to get basic services. Take the example of the e-passport.

It was launched with fanfare. We were told the machine could print 2,000 passports a day, and that we could apply online. Yet obtaining an e-passport does not work as advertised. It does not take three business days to get the passport. After applying and paying online, one is still expected to queue at Nyayo House.

I do not mean to fault the able men and women who work at Nyayo House. They are doing their best under difficult circumstances. I was particularly impressed by their professionalism – signified in no small part by their uniforms. Men and women worked behind the counter for hours, in shifts. I did not experience the standard closing down of the office for three hours at lunch. I was pleasantly shocked when at five they closed the doors but served those that had already obtained tickets. This is the essence of excellent public service.

But we need to do more. We should have piloted this roll out and anticipated several of the problems that still plague the application process. Why apply online then queue? Why have everyone in the same line, including people that just want to pick up their passports? Why not have an online appointment system so that people are assigned specific hours and only a set number of people show up at Nyayo House every day? Surely, the long queue at such a sensitive government installation must be a security hazard?

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The failure to think through many of the processes involved in the roll out of the e-passport is not just an annoyance to wananchi. It kills morale within the Department of Immigration Services (DIS). It was obvious to me that the public-facing staff at DIS have had to come up with their own system to make everything work.

For example, every often an Administration Police officer would come out to call specific categories of people – people getting temporary passports for regional travel, or those that just wanted to inquire about the status of their applications. Once one got into the main service hall – the DIS staff averaged about two and a half minutes to serve one person.

What can we do to make things better? First, let us make the online system work. DIS should enable wananchi to both apply online and schedule a time slot. That way we can minimise the need to wait all day. Second, the technical aspects of the e-passport roll out need urgent attention. In my experience, the one time that everything stalled was when power went out, and the machines had to be rebooted. The government should invest in power banks and backup generators. The DIS staff are great at their job. Let us support them with great systems.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Twitter: @kopalo

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