Processing my passport has been on every “To-Do” list I have made for the last 7 months. I kept putting it off, largely because it wasn’t urgent and from what I’d heard, the process was quite cumbersome. I eventually picked the application forms from Internal Affairs and soon, I realized why a large number of Ugandans only acquire their passports when they need to board a plane.

Getting the first stamp from the LC I Chairman was the easy part. Having lived in the same area for over 20 years, he was not a hard man to find. I got his number and set up an appointment. He signed my form and gave me some advice on how I could acquire the rest. This process required luck, money and perfect timing.

Along the way, a friend told me of a guy who could get this passport for me at UGX 300,000. Hassle free. Considering the going rate for an ordinary passport is UGX 150,000, the increment in price wasn’t too bad for an expedited process. I was feeling particularly patriotic that season so I decided not to enable the inefficiency. I would do this the right way.

I slid my envelope containing the forms and “stamp fee” under the LC II Chairman’s front door and picked the stamped forms the next day. Next was to the Wakiso district Headquarters for the Resident District Commissioner’s verification. I must have arrived too early as I found all the offices closed, save for the one which had a cluster of people waiting in line to address their National I.D queries. After waiting outside the RDC’s office for 2 hours, I cajoled a man in the I.D. office into giving me his number and gave him a call. He told me to give my forms to his secretary and come back. Come back when? He could not say. It was one more hour before his secretary arrived. She sent me to Nabweru for a stamp from the District Internal Security Officer.  

I went to Nabweru at 9:00am the following day and asked for the DISO. I was led to a man who had to finish his breakfast before he could attend to me, an activity that took over 30 minutes. He leisurely examined my forms, asked me to buy this and photocopy that, and then told me to leave the forms behind so they could be signed by the DISO who was not available at the moment. But I could leave the stamp fee behind.

I will be going back to Nabweru soon, then to Kasangati to have the forms signed by the Deputy RDC. I look forward to that, I have always been curious about Kasangati.

Throughout this process, the back and forth and the creative ways “stamp fees” are collected, I have noticed a trend among these office holders and their aides. They are slow, inaccessible, unethical people with little regard to time. Most of the people I interacted with in these offices lacked a sense of urgency and were in no hurry to offer service. Considering there is only one of them and many of us, they have the luxury of taking us in circles and extorting shilling by shilling from the common man, because we need them. We are desperate for their authorization, their signatures and stamps on our pieces of paper but they go to no lengths to make the process definitive.

Slow and inefficient service delivery has prompted many people to resort to using back doors just to get things done. In hindsight, the value of the time and energy I have spent running after stamps is a lot more than the UGX 300,000 I would have parted with to have my passport in less than three weeks.

This is a trend that you will observe in public hospitals, schools, law enforcement units and other institutions. Paying someone to do their job just so you can move on, paying someone to do their job because they will not do it if you do not. There is a great deal of unprofessionalism and inefficiency in service delivery that has taken root in our society, that it has become standard procedure for a tax paying citizen to pay a public servant for a stamp and signature.

It is going to take a lot more than commissions and committees to weed out this ineffectiveness and mismanagement of office. It should become a civic responsibility to ensure that public services are provided with as much ease and structure as possible. We ought to take conscious and deliberate steps to change the narrative of service delivery in our country. This has ceased to be a government issue, it is now a personal concern. After all, the people that hold these offices do come from our communities. They are our friends and family. They are us.