I spent the better half of this week trying to pay a traffic ticket. I went to five different offices, three of which I visited twice because “system yelem”. You cannot have been to a government office or a private one, such as banks or lehulu payment centers, and not have heard “system yelem”. If you have had my luck, you have experienced three days of back and forth-ing to make a single payment.
But what does it really mean? What is system and why is it, more often than not, gone? My desire to understand the “evil” that creates unforeseen delay in my days was so deep that I actually approached the IT people and asked what “system yelem” really meant. The simple answer is, sometimes it is a problem with the software and other times it’s a problem with the network. Network issues are due to Ethio-telecom and software ones are due to the designers of the system, a private software company.
Whoever may be at fault, if we were to calculate the amount of hours lost due to this ever so illusive system, the result would be staggering. The truth is, I do not think this “system” is not working out for us!
Yet the computer “system” is not the only thing that turned the simple act of paying a traffic ticket into a three day adventure. The second major issue was the lack of information, better yet the overwhelming amount of misinformation. It seriously feels like no one really knows who is responsible for what, but they will let you know what is not part of their responsibility. They are also more than willing to direct you to another office that they believe should be responsible to perform the task. The truth is that this is an all too familiar tactic of blame, or on this case responsibility, shifting.
I came across a quote posted on the wall of the megenagna traffic police secretariat and it said something along the lines of “information is gold”. Truer words have not been written, information really is gold especially as you are trying to do something that involves government offices.
Recently, it took me an entire day to figure out how to authenticate a document, and another additional day to get the document authenticated. The process was not complicated at all, there was just an order of how things should be done that was unclear. Who puts the first stamp? Then who signs? Then which office has to keep a record and make a note of that on the original? How many copies do you need to have?
Each time I go to these offices I reminded of our interesting relationship with information. In all reality, we are information hoarders! We do not like to give out information because it is just as precious as gold. Yet that is precisely why we need to be sharing information, because it is precious and it should not be because it is related to a public service. Everyone is supposed to have this information, and once we can all access it easily it stops being precious and becomes normal.
Our service delivery is, put in a very diplomatic way, not great. There’s room for improvement and it should all start with taking responsibility. If the system yelem, take responsibility for it and come up with an alternative. If someone seeking service is not clear on how to proceed, do not brush her off and send her to another office. Take responsibility and assist in guiding her to the right direction. What we need is not a flawless system because it does not exist, but developing alternatives based on its failures.