The pleasant surprise that is Huduma Service Centers

I remember how dreadful a process it was getting my national identity card. Ask anyone out there the trouble it took to secure an ID card before 2013; filling documents, looking for chiefs, sub chiefs, district officers, clergymen, and of course checking in every week for four months with a gradually weary waiting card.

And who can forget the photo session that never made anyone look good on their own ID? The ID issuing offices were no better. They were dimly lit and one could only access services through a tiny opening on a wire mesh-grilled window. Do not even get started with replacing a lost ID card. It was worse.

But I received a pleasant surprise when I lost my ID early last year and needed a replacement. I was served in less than 10 minutes when I walked into a Huduma Centre next to the Technical University of Kenya (formerly Kenya Polytechnic). I had a new generation ID in nine days. The staff member who served me was so friendly that she let me choose which photo would be used on the ID card. And there were a myriad of services on offer, with a separate queue for NHIF cards, NSSF registration, driving licenses, EACC clearance certificates and more. A queuing ticketing system made the affair all the more orderly.

The service was swift and nobody closed their work stations to go for lunch; they only switched places and carried on.

Service delivery in Government has always been dreadfully complicated. Delays, discretion and a lack of transparency encouraged the practice of “speed payments” where bureaucrats would demand, or investors and their agents would willingly offer informal payments to obtain a quick approval. In fact, a report titled ‘Cost Analysis Benefit to Citizens’, prepared by Huduma Kenya in August, showed that Kenyans have saved Sh12.6 billion cumulatively in the last three years, thanks to the programme. In that period, Kenyans would have paid about Sh9 billion in bribes and related expenses to have their IDs renewed.

While reading the history of such service delivery solutions, I stumbled on Egypt; the idea of creating a One-Stop-Shop in Egypt dates back to 2001. It aimed at improving the Egyptian economy by improving service delivery to investors In Cairo-the heart of the Egyptian economy. At that time, Egypt had complex registration and licensing procedures which did not favour investment. This was after a study was carried out by the Ministry of State for Administrative Development. It also indicated an unproductive process-oriented, and sometimes corrupt, bureaucracy. Consequently, the Egyptian government in 2001 decided to establish a one-stop-shop that would assemble officials from all government entities in one place. This aimed at making Government services customer and results oriented by observing high integrity and productivity.

Huduma’s own website indicates that there are 41 operational Huduma Centres, serving more than 35,000 people per day. Over 9.5 million people have been served to date. The centres have put us on a map because delegations from 16 African countries have already come calling on benchmarking visits to study the Kenyan Integrated Service Delivery Concept and how this can be replicated in their Countries.

Walk into any of the Huduma centres and you’ll see why it has to be one of the things this government has perfected. Service delivery is what the confidence of citizens in their own systems is pegged on. And so far, it’s a big plus.

Here is a quote from Former British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011: “I know what our public services can do and how they are the backbone of this country. But I know too that the way they have been run for decades - old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you’re-given –is just not working for a lot of people. Ours is a vision of open public services –there will be more freedom, more choice and more local control. Wherever possible, we are increasing choice by giving people direct control over the services they use...”

That vision, seemingly, is our reality.

Sammy Kwinga comments on topical issues.