I was driving through Kampala when a policewoman stopped me on a routine check. I pulled out my driving license, and after she had looked she said, ‘So why are you driving illegally?’ I looked again and realized that the license was one week out of date. ‘Now I could forgive you if it was a day or two out of date, but this is a whole week,’ she continued. ‘You are right,’ I agreed, ‘I had no idea that the renewal had passed.’
Eventually she agreed to let me go if I went immediately to renew the license, which I did, so off I went to the train station. The last time I renewed my license it was with Face Technologies, and it took several days. Since that time their contract had elapsed, and the Ministry of Transport has taken back license processing. I was about to find out how long this process would take.
I first had to go to the DTB branch located just inside the main building of the railway station where I found a long queue in front of me. I am not a patient person and was wondering if they had private banking where I would not have to wait, but there was just one line so I had to wait my turn. However, there were five tellers in action and the line moved relatively quickly. I paid 310,000 shillings for the five-year renewal and was given the necessary paperwork. From there I was told to go to the other end of the building for the actual license processing. I went through a security check and then presented my papers at a desk in a tent where they were checked to see that I had the right documentation (which includes the National ID). From there I was directed to another room for more processing. This line also moved quickly and within minutes I was in front of a young man who was taking my photo and doing fingerprints.
The whole process was guided by security guards, who told me where to go and where to sit, so after I finished the photo and fingerprinting, I was ushered into a large room where about one hundred people were waiting. At this point I looked at my watch and realized that I had another appointment in thirty minutes. I assumed I would miss that appointment, but I saw that people were being issued with their licenses every few minutes, and the line was moving quickly. Waiting is not my strong point, but there seemed to be no alternative in this whole process. Within about twenty minutes someone called my name and asked me to sign for the new license. I was even on time for the next appointment. Later that afternoon I passed by the policewoman with my new license.
This is a great story of efficiency in a government department that is in stark contrast with other stories of how long it can take to get a document such as a national ID or a passport. The license cost 310,000 shillings but will now last five years instead of three. I have a friend who lost her National ID, which cost her 500,000 shillings but took months to process. Another person I know paid 400,000 for an express passport – which still took more than three weeks and she was sent back and forth between different offices and various lines.
I congratulate the Ministry of Works and Transport on the great job they are doing, but this begs the question as to why National IDs, passports and other documents from government ministries take so long. Although I admit that I am not a patient person and will naturally try to avoid waiting in long lines, it was great that no one got preferential treatment, and the system worked smoothly, so resources were not diverted to an elite as everyone else waited (like Kampala traffic). Therefore let us not have a system that prioritizes an elite at the expense of everyone else, but let us have one system that works for everyone.
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