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!