While it is expected to have a bit of some difference if one is to compare two sides of the same coin, surely the difference should leave a bit of semblance that this is the same coin.
By Farai Gwenhure
The same cannot be said about the Registrar-General’s Office. A simple look at the passport office at Makombe Building will show you an orderly place conducive to offer a public service, but the Market Square births and deaths registry office screams confusion, hate, corruption and disorder.
Recently NewsDay published an article applauding Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede for transforming the passport office from a torture camp, where citizens were punished for trying to obtain travel documents, into a proper public service department.
It even got better when one Jameson Mukwe (not real name) remarked “Mudede for President!” after spending a very short time having his documents processed.
Here is an individual who left the country seven years ago through illegal means after failing to acquire a passport because the queues were too long and one needed to bribe someone to get a passport.
In his ecstasy Mukwe did not know that at the other end of Harare Street Mudede has another department under his jurisdiction where confusion is a trademark.
Unlike Makombe Building where visible signs of directions are smiling at every visitor, Market Square is a dark hole where you have to rely on asking any person you suspect to be an officer, you do yourself injustice if you do not go for thanksgiving if you get a polite response.
Market Square is just another version of hell only this time the devil will be nowhere to be found, maybe individuals at the office would have secretly acquired a franchise from him just to torment fellow citizens.
Young children cry for the whole day strapped on their mothers’ backs, old people grow weary sitting on the not-so-comfortable benches and everyone else has a hungry stomach. Folks cannot leave the place for a second to grab some food across the street for fear of being turned back or ordered to return the following day.
Unlike at Makombe Building where the staff has since became very friendly, the ones at Market Square are still very hostile, cynical and mean.
One second in the room where fingerprints are taken one would regret ever visiting the place, as a man in a blue dustcoat manning the place bellows many unkind words at the public. This is despite the fact that young people who would have just turned 16 will be acquiring their identity cards for the first time, therefore they do not know the procedure.
Fingers are pulled and dipped in the ink in a very unfriendly manner and shouting continues with such words as “musanditambisire nguva yangu”(do not waste my time). By the way, you will hear this phrase in so many public service departments, anyone who visited a public hospital recently will confess to this.
They sort of criminalise the process of acquiring identity cards, birth and death certificates. Their body language is simply very much unfriendly, it really reads you are not welcome.
One can also be tempted to conclude that most officers at the place and indeed in many government departments are not aware of the fact that it is the right of every citizen to acquire documents of that nature.
This is despite the fact that the Constitution dedicates the whole Chapter 9 in outlining the expected principles of public administration.
Section 194 (1) (e) of the Constitution reads “people’s needs must be responded to within a reasonable time”. It seems no one at the Market Square Registry Office ever cared to read that clause of the supreme law of the land. Many of them, if not all, are in an ignorant continuous violation of the Constitution, sadly for them ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
A closer interrogation of the issue will come down to the cross-cutting issue of job entitlement versus responsibility.
The civil service is full of people who are interested in being entitled to a salary at the end of the month rather than the responsibility to serve the public.
Many civil service institutions are like that, be it in the police force, public schools and even the public hospitals. Just like the Market Square Registry Office, you will see desperate, impatient faces at every outpatient department of the country’s referral hospitals.
Walk into any police station and report an accident at the traffic section, you will be lucky if any officer will bother to ask you if there are any casualties at the scene. The most definitive answers you will get is that the station does not have a car to go to the place.
The temptation to shift blame to the State which fails to pay and motivate workers is high. However, a simple look at the figures from the passport office which serves about 2 240 passport applicants a day and a births and deaths registry which aims at issuing a paltry 120 identity cards a day should speak volumes.
The simple conclusion is to the effect that very few people can define what it is which makes them Zimbabwean, let alone to be able to go beyond what they are entitled by a contract to being a responsible citizen doing everything to serve their country of birth.
Farai Gwenhure is a journalist by training and writes in his personal capacity.