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PUBLIC SERVICE IS MORE THAN OPENING AN OFFICE EARLY

In my working life after clearing my undergraduate degree from Moi University in 2002, I have worked for the government of Kenya the longest: 9 years to be precise. I joined Kenya Immigration services as an Immigration officer two in May 2005 and left as a Senior Immigration officer in May 2014 to try life out here. So out of seventeen years I have been working, my job as a civil servant really defined who I am today. I could write a whole book about working for the government but we leave that for another day.

In the last few months I have been receiving calls upon calls from people seeking my help or guidance in applying for their new generation Kenyan passport….and by the way most of the time my friends will tell me…it is very urgent! Well, I happen to know from experience that as Kenyans we have a very peculiar habit called last minute rush! I obviously help in defining to them what urgent means from an Immigration perspective:…a sick person in an ambulance outside Nyayo house awaiting issuance of their passport so that they can be airlifted to India for urgent Medicare….well none of them had such a situations….they will tell me that you know a katrip has come up and it is in two weeks’ time and I don’t want to miss out!…anyway I digress.

As one that understands a little about Immigration and government processes, I have taken sometime to analyze what is actually the problem with this new generation passport and why are we subjecting Kenyans to such long and tedious queues as witnessed in the last few months around Nyayo house?

Issue number one is that we gave ourselves a deadline of September 2019 for every Kenyan to have the new generation passport. Was this practical and well thought out? What is the push for the deadline? Well I do not have the answers but me thinks this was a misstep. While ICAO has guidelines on securing passports globally the emphasize is on how secure are our passports through centralized printing of travel documents in a country.

Issue number two we reduced passport application receiving centers to only 3 in the country ( Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu). We also centralized the printing of new generation passport to Nairobi. The printing bit is a good move because even ICAO advocates for centralized passport printing center for security reasons. However, the bit on where to submit the applications is a mis step in my view. We now have Huduma centers across the country in the spirit of devolution and ease of service delivery to mwananchi.

Additionally we have Immigration offices with competent Immigration officers across the country. That being the case, I have asked myself why do we ask Kenyans from across the country (world actually) to go to just three stations? I actually noted that we ask them to appear for two simple actions: one is to have their photos taken and two to collect their passports once printed.

Now, I have a small problem with that: The numbers of Kenyans seeking to apply for the new generation passport is overwhelming and there is no capacity to handle all the applications in just 3 stations. Officers in those stations are overworked and end up being grumpy and annoyed permanently…well who wouldn’t? This in effect ends up affecting Kenyans seeking services and queuing for many hours without being served. Yes Immigration offices are open as early as 6 AM but still by then many Kenyans are already queueing outside!

The other issue is that all Kenyan missions abroad are not receiving applications for new generation passports. So some Kenyans are flying all the way to Nairobi to apply for the passports in the light of approaching deadline….this adds to the long lines at Immigration centers in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. I know there are plans to cascade passport centers to more centers locally and in Missions abroad but the speed of doing that is slower than the speed of approaching deadline on September 2019!

Now, my thoughts are; we may need to rethink how we roll out government projects because at the end of the day, however well intended they are, if they end up causing misery and suffering as we are currently experiencing in passport application centers especially Nyayo house then it is not right. Secondly, while printing of passports can be centralized, I see no reason why we cannot install the equipments and software needed to receive passport applications at Huduma Centers and Immigration offices around the country for people within those catchments to submit their applications all over the country…we have enough Immigration officers to do the job and if not we can hire others. Once printed, passports can be dispatched to the same offices for Kenyans to  pick them there ( In the US passports are picked at the post offices of choice). In addition we can cascade the same to all missions abroad to receive applications from Kenyans in the diaspora.

While the business of running a government is complex due to funding issues and other bureaucracies, as government officials making critical decisions, there is need to put into considerations the public interests and the ease of accessing such projects. Certainly the new generation passport is the way to go but the time frames and logistics at the moments are causing untold suffering to Kenyans if the hue and cry we are seeing in the media and social media is anything to go by. I hope those concerned can rethink this and expedite the cascading of services across the country and in missions abroad to make is easier for Kenyans to get their new blue books…well I am yet to get mine as well!

THE DANGERS OF A FIXATED MIND

As we close the year 2018, I have been reflecting on the real sense of passage of time. Although it is trite  knowledge that a minute is 60 seconds, a day 24 hours, a month either 28, 29, 30 0r 31 days as the case may be, a year 12 months and so forth, I have found myself wondering whether in real sense this means anything….my traditional mindset is one of day and night following each other in successive intervals thus passage of time. Days  are probably all the same…day and night following each other…anyway I digress.

In the last 8 weeks or so, I was privileged to be at Thika Law courts for my clinicals. Well, for my friends that clinic means what I have always known from my village mentality: a place where expectant mothers go for check up and once the baby is born take it there for vaccinations, allow me to explain these clinicals. It is a requirement for all students pursuing a Bachelor of Laws at the universities to spend some time at the law courts to acquaint themselves with how courts work. So this is what I was doing for 8 weeks.

As is the norm, people suspected of felonies or misdemeanors are arrested and charged before a court of law to determine if they are guilty of the offences charged for or not. The arresting officer drafts a charge sheet after conducting investigations. The charge sheet and the police file is then availed to the prosecution counsel to establish if it is proper before authorizing for the prosecution. The accused person is then produced in court within reasonable time to take plea. Plea taking is where the charges are read to you and your answer is either; it is true, not true or silence. The judicial officer then gives you a mention date of your case within 14 days and an option of cash bail or bond for you to argue your case while a free man or woman…. I do not wish to bore you with court procedures.

One day our court was slotted to go to Industrial area remand prison (Inda) where suspects either denied bill/bond or unable to raise such bill or bond are kept under lock and key as they await their day in court. Since the law is that one must appear before a judicial officer at least once every 14 days for a mention of their case then this day we had to go to ‘Inda’ for the mention. In simple terms a mention is where the accused person appears before a magistrate/judicial officer to get a date for their next mention or hearing…it also gives them a chance to raise any matters that they may wish the court to know or help them. Most of the accused persons in remand will have a forest of issues that they wish the court to intervene on.

At ‘Inda’ this material day, we accompanied the magistrate there to observe the process. I had only seen the gates but never been there before for any reason whatsoever. So at the gates we find these armed prison guards who ushered us into the compound. Inside the compound there are other high security buildings with prison wardens all over. We are then ushered into the first gate that is always locked from the inside after our orderly knocks the gate in their coded manner…we are now into the inside of another outside. Gate one is locked then gate two is knocked in a coded way and we are ushered into another passage leading to an open ground where inmates are playing various games including volleyball and football…we walk past them into a small room that serves as the court for the day. Once there the magistrate takes her position and we too did the same. The calling of the accused persons then starts…

We had quite a number of files to go through, may be 70 or thereabout, but one young man in his late teenage years or early twenties really stuck in my mind to date. When his time came he entered the room with his hand raised to show he had something to tell the court. The court assistant signaled him to go ahead and say what he had to say. Apparently he wanted his bond reduced to less then Kshs. 500K so that he could continue with the case while outside prison. He really begged the magistrate to have mercy on him and reduce his bond terms. The magistrate decline owing to the offence he was accused of: robbery with violence! However, the learned magistrate looked at the file and asked him why he had been in custody for 4 months for stealing a Kshs. 10,000 phone…could his people not look for the complainant and speak to him and pay him the amount to buy another phone upon which the complainant would withdraw the case?

Shockingly the young man failed to digest the statement from the magistrate and stood there with his cry for a reduced bond! “Please, I beg you to have mercy on me and reduce the bond so that I can do the case from outside…please help me “he continued. The magistrate responded, “I am actually helping you the best way possible but your idea of being helped is so narrow to the extent of failing to seize the golden opportunity I am offering you”. As I sat there watching, I was shocked at how dangerous a fixated mind can be. I am not sure if it is possible that being in custody could have affected his broad thinking but here was young man facing a capital offense for robbing the complainant of a mobile phone worth 10K being given a chance to have the case withdrawn upon talking to the complainant and paying for the phone but all he was imploring the magistrate to do is reduce his bond terms to less than 500K so as to continue with the case out of custody!

Akin to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her now too famous TED talk on the dangers of a single story, I realized the dangers of a fixated mind are even more dangerous!