Saturday, August 22, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
August 20, 2009

It is Thursday morning on August 13, the year of our Lord two thousand and nine. It is rather chilly in Nairobi with no parking anywhere between Treasury building and the AG’s chambers. But because I must visit the Registrar of Persons offices for a repeat job that their careless staff had messed up on my document, I must befriend City Hall’s men in yellow to allow me a double parking and keep an eye on hawk-eyed traffic police that may be just too willing to pounce on my car for minor traffic offence at a small fee.

As I enter the crowded and disorganized marketplace that passes for a government office, I feel bewildered and overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed because I do not know where to queue and state my problem. What hits an outsider like I is that in this maze of humanity, there is no help desk to guide the public on where or which window to go to.

My wits tell me to approach two ladies sitting together with some files in front of them. They are chatting intimately and by expressions on their faces, the topic must be some juicy gossip or a recap of last weekend’s good times far away from office.

As I approach, they don’t notice me until I’m right in their faces bending over to breathe in their noses. That does the trick. One of them cutly asks what she can do for me.I take the opportunity to ask for a repeat job on a birth certificate their typists had messed up.

As I desperately try to show her the certificate, she quickly tells me to go to counter number 4. At counter number 4, three ladies in white overalls sit together with a pen and a ledger book in to which somehow they make entries for application forms. When I show them that my form requires a correction for the messes they made on it the previous week, suddenly they feel overwhelmed and refer me to their boss sitting inside at a corner.

As I approach the third office since my arrival, I see a lady trying to walk past me yet I could notice she had clearly seen her juniors pointing at her to deal with me. I block her way and ask her if she is the one I was directed to for help. She looks at me with some kind of disdain but obliges to go back to her desk. After listening to me, she asks me to fill a fresh form and take the documents back to counter number 4.

Back at counter number 4, the three ladies jointly look at my documents casually and ask me to return after three days by which time they will have completed the search and prepared a new certificate.

As I leave the building, I feel assured that in three days, my document will be ready because I made sure I submitted everything including photo copies of my passport.
Even though they casually ask me to come after three days, my gut feeling tells me that they may have meant three working days.

And considering the fact that I have submitted my documents at 10 am on a Thursday, chances of starting to work on it the same day are next to zero considering the prevailing lethargy in that office.

I therefore decide to count three days from Friday through to Tuesday August 18, 2009 before going back for my documents. However for some reason I don’t get to go back until Thursday August 20, 2009 when I am pretty sure that my documents are ready after a full seven days as opposed to the three days they had given me.

As I struggle with parking on this chilly Nairobi morning, a good natured City Hall parking supervisor decides to help me with a parking, which I promptly grab at a small tip.

As I briskly walk into the Registrar’s Department for the second time in a week, my passport in hand, I go straight to counter number 4 and hand over a small chit they had given me the week before. On looking at it, she quickly retrieves the very documents I had handed over the week before only this time there are lots of writings with red ink on them- showing that they have been worked on.

Without ceremony, she hands over the forms to me to take to the cashier and pay the mandatory KSh 50.00. I quickly rush to the cashier and pay the fee. This is when the cashier drops the bombshell.

As I linger at the counter waiting to be told which counter to take the receipt to, the young man tells me to come the following week for my birth certificate. What is so amusing is that even on my cash receipt, he has only managed to write my first name!

I then return to counter number four to ask why I was not told last week that all I would do would be to pay Sh. 50 and wait for another week to collect my document. Without mincing their words, the girls tell me that it is the procedure and that I should have known!

In real terms, getting a birth certificate at the registrar’s office has been extremely costly to me in terms of time, parking inconvenience, parking charges and registrar’s fees which I have had to pay twice for their own mistake.

But the most irritating thing is why a Kenyan should wait for two weeks to get a certificate such as mine after the search has taken three days. Can Mr Ombudsman pay a visit to this department because many Kenyans are suffering unnecessarily? Kenyans who are not ready to work have no business being in government offices.