It is always with great hesitation that I turn my pen against a fellow comrade. However, national interest trumps political affiliation. I cannot remain silent in the face of gross incompetence. The Passport Office is a national disgrace.Identity documents are not an act of grace by Government. They are a constitutional right of every citizen. This right must be serviced at reasonable cost and delivered in an expedient fashion.
I suspect the reader is familiar with the chaotic queues at Makombe Building. People wait for long hours and suffer abuse from insolent civil servants who have no regard for courtesy or customer service. They treat people with absolute contempt. This is completely unacceptable.
What is most troubling is not the problem but the simplicity of the solution. It is either Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede just does not care or he is grossly incompetent. I suspect the former is true.
Let me explain what I mean by the simplicity of the solution. Harare is faced with a water shortage. The underlying infrastructure is rotting and 60 percent of treated water is lost to leakage. This, dear friends, is a difficult problem. Simply moving staff from one department to the other or hiring a quick-footed consultant will not suffice.
You need significant funds to pay for infrastructure, you need time for engineers to dig up the old pipes and replace them and this comes with its own complexities.
The water troubles suffered by Bulawayo are equally complicated. The informed reader will know that this problem has frustrated governments since colonial times. There are no easy answers. The lack of solutions cannot be attributed merely to incompetence or a lack of imagination.
This is not the case at the Passport Office.
That shambolic operation is nothing more than a human resources problem. The management is not entirely incompetent (they get the job done to some extent) but is largely unimaginative. They have failed to create effective systems to ensure that waiting times are reduced. These are not allegations; the evidence is there for all to see.
They have also failed to nurture a culture of courtesy and good customer service. Again these are not allegations but a statement of inconvenient fact.
The issue of courtesy and good customer service is not exclusive to Makombe Building. Many Government employees display a shocking disrespect for customers.
This must come to an end. We cannot continue to treat the people who elect us to office with such contempt. A smile and a polite response should be standard in civilised society.
Is it the case that Mr Mudede is unable to rein in his rowdies or he just does not care? I suspect the latter. He has the power to bring about swift and lasting change if he so wishes.
The impudent culture at Mr Makombe would be tolerable if the offender were effective. This is not the case. People endure endless queues. People pay for 24-hour passports only to receive them 96 hours later.
Most Zimbabweans if asked if they were satisfied with the services rendered by the Registrar-General’s Office would answer an emphatic no. This is the unfortunate reality. But all is not lost; if my pen has not offended beyond reconciliation I would hope Comrade Mudede would give me his ear.
Data entry wastes time
The first and most obvious problem is the use of critical staff for petty data entry tasks. Passport applicants fill out forms by hand. Staff at Makombe then enters this information manually into the computer system.
This is an obvious flaw in the system since otherwise-productive staff is being taken away from actually processing applications and are instead devoting precious resources to typing.
There is no reason why applicants cannot visit a website and fill out the entire form, get an application number, and simply arrive with their information already in the system.
This is not high-tech or complicated, it is trivial and the software solutions are cheap and readily available. The role of Makombe staff would now be to simply verify the integrity of the information and to accept payment. As I said earlier, these are simple matters.
Respect those who pay
I was prompted to write this piece after receiving a letter from an annoyed young lady who paid for an emergency passport only to receive it days later. No apology was offered.
A few important points arise on the issue of 24-hour passports. The reader will note that the US$350 charge levied by the Registrar-General’s Office is exorbitant. However, the cost is not the problem. The problem is the quality of service that you get after paying US$350 for a document that costs four times less in developed countries.
It is negligent in the most of Mr Mudede to expect a senior manager or businessman who has forked out that much money to be wandering about from office to office in that labyrinth of corridors begging for someone to assist him. After paying US$350? It’s an outrage.
The reader must recognise that those who pay so much for their passports subsidise the system for the rest. With that in mind you would imagine that there would be a better service for those who have paid considerably more. Instead of suffering a seven-hour queue those who pay more must be entitled to a fast track service and perhaps a more pleasant application environment.
These suggestions would seem obvious; that they are neglected is a cause of quite some perplexity.
I am particularly agitated because the issues at hand are trivial. I am not asking Mudede to build a rocket. No, I am simply asking for an efficient service in the delivery of identity documents.
If we cannot manage such simple tasks what hope do we have in a world facing great challenges such as global warming and terrorism?
For quite a while we have protected our own from criticism but I think the time has come for us to call a spade a spade. We cannot continue to submit our people to wilful incompetence simply because the offender concerned is a fellow comrade.
It is an unsustainable system of unrighteous comradeship and will lead to political ruin.
On an unrelated note. I see that Energy Mutodi has fallen into love and, more worryingly, legal troubles. What is troubling is that he sought to run on a Zanu-PF ticket and was actually tolerated within our ranks although it was public knowledge that he had a criminal case to answer.
Such unrighteous associations bring the name of the party into disrepute. It cannot be the case that one commits a rape and the next morning proceeds to join Zanu-PF, zealously chanting anti-imperialist slogans, in the hope of evading prosecution.
Such people are a liability and the sooner Zanu-PF disposes of them, the better.
Ndini muchembere wenyu, Amai Jukwa