Monday, 21 January 2013

Processing of Driving Licenses in Malawi: A lost SME Business Opportunity

In December 2012, I spent a total of 7 hours (in two days) in Malawi simply trying to renew my expired Driver’s License. Assuming my salary was K1 million a month, the 7 hours of idleness, sharing groundnuts and jokes with “dobadobas” translates into a K40,000 (£75) which would be counted as a loss to an employer. Multiply this loss with the number of people experiencing such inefficiencies every day! It will give you an idea of how much our economy is losing. Then add similar inefficiencies in banks, passport office, courts, other Government service offices, supermarkets, churches, funerals, etc! A basic review of the processes that take place at the Road Traffic Office, one wonders why the Government even talks about championing promotion of small and medium enterprises, when an opportunity to create small businesses is wasted by such high level Government centralization. The love for centralization in Malawi of simple processes has created a healthy breeding ground for corruption which at the Road Traffic has translated into the “dobadoba industry”. I am informed that the “dobadobas” that I called “local consultants” form part of a complex “processing chain” involving the Road Traffic employees. The employees who process the paper work connive with the “dobadobas” and the fees clients pay to dobadobas are shared with the Government employees. The only reason this rotten system is not changing is that all high level persons, (Ministers, MPs, Judges, Principal Secretaries, political party officials etc.) use a parallel system to have their licenses renewed. As the drama unfolded when I was processing my license, I relayed my experience on Facebook. What struck me off was the level of tolerance that we Malawians have towards mediocre. I was advised to abandon the plebeians and go to the “headquarters” of Road Traffic. Someone wrote, “Wati, You are a senior official at the Commonwealth Secretariat and you were once Chief Executive of MIPA. Go to the Head office and they will process your papers faster”. I refused, not because I did not want the luxury, but because there were a lot of people who were not in my privileged position who were going to queue up for more than 5 hours and they had equally important things to do. Having arrived at Road Traffic Office at about 07.50am, I got my “Temporary License” at 12.45pm with the help of a Dobadoba who I paid K3, 000. I am sure this was duly shared with his masters. Apart from the fact that it is silly for whole Government to have only one camera for processing licenses, there is no need for Government to hold a monopoly on the processing of driving licenses. Here is a free consultancy on how the system could be improved and in the process creating a number of formalized small businesses (not vendors). 1. The application/renewal forms should be put online and/or collected from any Government department, post office or bank at a fee; 2. Government should encourage on-line applications; (this will create jobs for internet cafes, studios etc.). Those renewing licenses can make a payment at a post office or bank and the receipt number for payment will be appended on the online application. 3. The Government should give specifications for photographs required and small businesses will open up studios to supply the photos – including electronic copies (based on the specs). 4. The printing of the licenses should be contracted out to several companies that will operate as licensed agents; 5. The processing of a renewal should not take more than 5 days and once you have submitted application online and paid, a confirmation number can be used as proof of renewal as you await your license; By undertaking these simple steps, there will be no need for anyone to go to offices of road traffic at all and we will have broken the corruption cartel that has been formed. Please let us not hear you have formed a Committee to review this. Just do it. Down with Dobadobas and their masters.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Wati, you have simplified the solution well and if we had to take it further, I would add the following in no particular order:
1. Governance - transparency and accountability measures to be put in place.
2. Salaries - need to bring these to a level where it would eradicate the need for "local consultants"
3. Upskilling - members of staff need to understand what they are doing and why, those who don't, bring them at par with the rest to walk the same talk;
4. Systems - ensure they are up to date to cater for the demand which can include the revenues received;
5. Processes - need a complete overhaul on what has to happen first, what is working, what isn't working and make the necessary improvements
6. Civic education - a licence 101 to general public including handy notices on what goes on there to manage expectations
7. Linkages - workable and informative between third parties and the RT itself;
8. Upgrade of facilities - ensure clients have all the amenities required while they queue;
9. Database of renewals - to enable them manage the demand such as which ones are coming up for renewal, time frames given through notifications for timely renewals, late penalties effected accordingly - wonder how this would work though in the absence of IDs with proper and up to date addresses and contact details;
10. Effective checks and balances that will include monitoring, measurements and evaluation on an ongoing basis.

Though the above list isn't exhaustive, replicate the same in all departments including banks etc.