Seeking government services in Kenya introduces one to a system that is designed to promote corruption. The script is always familiar.

If you want to transfer a piece of land, the government must be involved. You submit the necessary documents to the relevant office and are asked to come back after 21 days. You go back after 21 days and you are told that the files are not ready and have to wait for another 14 days.

You go back after 14 days and you are told the officer who was handling your documents is away and you should come back after 7 days. You go back again after 7 days and this time you are told that your file is missing and there is nothing they can do.

If you produce some money, the file quickly appears and you are sorted out within minutes. If you had β€˜talked’ with some officer on the first day, you would have received your documents immediately.

The same case happens with traffic offenses.

You are arrested for a minor traffic offense and you have two options. Pay a bribe and be on your way in a minute or less, or fail to pay a bribe and you are detained from 8 am to 3 pm where you are let go and asked to appear in court the next day. The next day you go to court but you are told that police have not submitted the files. You are given another day to appear and this time the files are there and police do not show up. You are given another date on which you have to appear in person because if you do not, a warrant of arrest could be issued.

Following up pension upon retirement, cases in courts, document replacement, seeking special business permits, or any other service where the government is involved follow the same script.

The digital age

I had always assumed that if government services are taken online it would make it easier to eliminate those inefficiencies. While in some case it has, in many cases, digital systems are designed in a way that allows for human intervention, hence corruption.

One example is the application for a passport in Kenya. I wonder why the official application platform does not give you the full information that you need, and you have to result to third parties that are not reliable. You visit the office with a hard copy of the payment receipt and they tell you that you need to have three copies.

Why could they not inform me in advance? Because someone is doing a good business there of photocopying documents at an inflated price.

The same case with business registration. I did a business name search online and it was rejected, and there was no feedback on why it was rejected. I did a second one and it was also rejected. I consulted a few people and they told me that it was because I had not included the suffix β€œLimited” at the end (Or was it because I had included it when I was not supposed to?). I ended up paying someone to do it.

I also encountered the same problem with AGPO registration that I was supposed to apply for online, then go and pick the certificate at the Huduma Center. I did the application and went to pick the certificate, where I was asked to wait for 14 days. After 14 days I was asked to wait for another 14 days. The next time I went the office was closed and they were not sure when it would be reopened. I waited for some time and went again and it was not available. I begged the officer in charge just to get it to me and he promised me that he will take care of it and I got it after three days.

Had I used one of those agents who offer the service and they have a connection with Treasury, I would have paid some money and the certificate would have been out within a day.

I could narrate about applying for a birth certificate, but the story is just like the ones above.

Why is the process so complicated and why is equally poor even when it is digitized?

Because it was designed with such inefficiencies that aid corruption. Automation has helped cut down on corruption, but there are still some design bottlenecks that are supposed to be lubricated with corruption.

The Government of Kenya speaks fluent corruption.

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