Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does Inefficiency + Corruption = False Accomplishment & Under achievement?

Last week, I received a rates bill from the Nairobi City Council that erroneously showed I had an amount outstanding despite the amount having been settled months ago.

On Friday, I duly went to City Hall to get the problem resolved. Having dealt with the same problem before, I took along copies of the paid rates receipt from earlier this year. Unfortunately I was told that the amount shown as outstanding was reflecting an unpaid amount from 2008 (despite the fact the exact same thing happened in 2008 and I took copies of paid receipts along with a letter to get the payment made last year reflected). I was therefore advised to bring copies of the payment receipts from last year (which I had foolishly not carried with me).

Yesterday (Tuesday), I took copies of all the payment reciepts, the officer I had dealt with looked them over and confirmed that my account should be at zero. He then directed me to Chief Accountant Rates to endorse the change and input it into the system. (Only the chief accountant and IC accountant in rates department can do this).

When I got to the accountants' offices, the IC accountant was out, the chief accountant was with somebody. I waited about 15-20 minutes for the chief accountant to finish with the person she was seeing. She promptly left. I waited another hour or so before first the IC accountant, then 5 minutes later the Chief accountant returned to their offices.

While I had been waiting, the secretary had suggested I leave the documents and check on the progress of the case in 3-5 days. I decided to wait. Once the IC accountant came back, he resolved the issue in about 5 minutes.

In total (if both Friday & Tuesday visits to City Hall are included), I spent close to 2 hours waiting around for something that cumulatively took 10 minutes to resolve. This is only the time spent in City Hall and does not include the time spent to get there.

Once the matter was resolved, I briefly felt a sense of accomplishment. I was briefly happy that I had managed to get the matter sorted out. But in reality what did I achieve? Very little. This is not something I should have been excited or happy to have done. The sense of accomplishment was derived from the unnecessary complication of what is a very simple process. I think of it as a false sense of accomplishment.

As an average Kenyan going about my day-to-day business, I realize that my life is filled with similar sorts of experiences. Very simple processes that are made to seem extremely complex and complicated which when navigated successfully, breed this false sense of accomplishment. It leads me to wonder:

Can/Does this state of affairs turn us into a nation of under achievers? A nation of perennially 'busy' yet fairly unproductive people? Are we already that? Does this translate to lack of ambition?

I have been very critical of government/civil service about a failure to tackle corruption and inefficiency..some feel unfairly so. But much of my frustration stems from the fact that I see a total failure to put real thought, real commitment and real effort into simplifying the simple processes for us wananchi. Infact I should say re-simplifying the simple processes.

It is my belief that one method of creating avenues for rent-seeking (corruption) is to make systems as complex, convoluted and inefficient as possible. The rent-seeker then offers their 'services' to 'navigate' through the system quickly.

It is my belief that if there was real commitment to fighting corruption, this avenue would be closed by examining the processes and procedures in place to ensure that the system operates at maximum efficiency at all times. This commitment would also manifest in desire to make these processes and procedures as clear and transparent as possible.

In most cases I see, this first step does not require much more than thought and leadership. Thought to examine the system and see where loopholes lie (unmanned work stations, convoluted/repetitive procedures etc) and leadership in closing those loopholes.

As a simple example, there should be a directive at City Hall that there must always be at least one person on duty and at their workstation who has the authority to endorse rates revisions. That way my 10 minute task can be completed in 10-15..maybe 20 minutes as opposed to the 90+ minutes it took yesterday.

By making processes as simple, quick and efficient as possible, we shorten the time it takes to carry out tasks which allows us to be more productive.

By simplifying the simple, we (theoretically) enhance our work ethic by raising the bar of what it takes for individuals to feel any sense of accomplishment. We may be a hard working people, but I would not say we are an especially productive/efficient people yet. That needs to change.

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