In Kenya government is where good people go to become bad people. And when they get there, the great ideas they had before getting there become bad ideas.
This is after the ideas are mangled beyond recognition, handed over to committees to implement, and ultimately implemented in a form so alien from the original idea that they have to be rejected almost immediately.
The computer boffins say Kenya operates a set of information silos — each government agency has tons of information, but none of it is connected to the information held by any other agency. Hence, mwananchi seeking services has to go through the same tedious, time-wasting process every time with different agencies.
Buying a car? Fill in these forms with all your details and include tax details and your mother’s name and dad’s name, you will be told.
Applying for a passport? Fill in these forms with all your details and your father’s name and his grandfather’s name, you will be told. Opening a personal file at a public hospital? Fill in these forms with all you details...you know the rest.
Every agency in government appears to believe that it should have all your information in its private little archive. But even if you visit the same agency twice, you will still have to “fill in these forms with all your details...”
So it was a bit of a relief when wananchi were told that the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has finally decided to automate motor vehicle details and issue new number plates.
We all smiled with relief at the prospect of new driving licenses the size of ATM cards, log books that look and feel like credit cards, and vehicle registration number plates that can be read by cameras to help arrest road hogs and the nasty fools who run traffic lights and make motoring life hell for everyone.
But not so fast. That is too good to be true, because it would make life too easy. Eng Michael Kamau, the Transport boss, declared that the new number plates will have an embedded microchip that holds “all the personal details of the car owner”. This is, needless to say, totally hare-brained.
You see, all those personal details are sitting in various government agencies, but most importantly in KRA’s vast databases.
You cannot legally buy a car in Kenya without KRA having your records. And since the car number plates come via the same KRA, it surely would not have been asking too much to simply have the car number plate linked to the owner’s details within that same KRA database.
That way, when a car is sold, its number plate is simply transferred to the new owner‘s record within KRA‘s data. Getting this information from KRA is simple for the police, should they need it — they only require a mobile phone.
So we will find an expensive bidder and give them a fat contract to print microchips with people’s details, and then stick these onto number plates.
Selling the car requires changing microchips — more money for the winning bidder. And since our criminals will acquire microchip readers next week, they will simply point the readers at cars to know whose vehicle it is.
Oh, and, you want to buy a car? Sorry, come next week for your microchip. Unless you can pay something small.