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Good things happening with driver licensing in Mbarara

Good things happening with driver licensing in Mbarara

Last week, two of my friends from Kabale visited Mbarara to renew their drivers’ licences. (The correct names of these towns are Kabaare and Mburara, but I must obey the rules of this newspaper which adheres to corrupted African place names.) Their separate experiences with the Uganda Driver Licensing System (UDLS), a project under the Ministry of Works and Transport, were very similar. 


Manuel Muranga, the Director of the Institute for Language Studies at Kabale University, sent a WhatsApp message: “These people here are very efficient, very polite, very helpful. It is their culture. You will hardly believe this is our Uganda, but this office here in Mbarara inspires hope in our country. I know that even their headquarters (in Kampala) are equally cultured. This is truly unbelievable. Thank God there are some sane places in this country, even in some corners of its bureaucracy!”


Muranga added: “I went there worried and sceptical. I was very pleasantly surprised. I left the place thankful, joyful, and hopeful!” 


Ezra Sebahire, a schoolteacher, told me in a telephone conversation: “I was impressed and amazed by the driver licence renewal staff. They were very polite and helpful without waiting to be asked. Right from the security personnel at the gate to the reception staff, and to the licencing officers, it was clear they were happy I was there and treated me with courtesy and respect. They treated me like a welcome guest and offered seats to me and others while we waited. There was not the slightest hint of a desire for a bribe. Unbelievable really.”


The process was straightforward. All that the applicant needed was the expired original licence, a valid government issued National Identity Card (if a Ugandan national) or passport (if a foreigner) or refugee card, proof of payment of applicable fees, and a completed application form. 


The application form had a section for a medical examination report and recommendation by a doctor licensed to practice in Uganda. This medical examination report, more rigorous than I have seen here in Canada, required a thorough eye examination to ensure visual integrity, a hearing assessment, certification of the applicant’s mental health and general physical health. 


The cost of renewal (Sh. 130,000 for 1 year, Sh. 210,000 for 3 years and Sh. 310,000 for 5 years) appeared very reasonable for this service.  Like many government services, UDLS, which does not accept cash payment at its branches, directed the applicants to pay the fees at a nearby bank and bring proof of payment.


With all requirements satisfied, including a portrait photograph and thumbprint, the applicant was issued a temporary driving licence, valid for 5 years. Yes, five years!  Muranga offered a possible explanation for this extraordinary duration of a temporary licence. 


“What is also amazing is how considerate they are of people who come from far away from Mbarara”, he wrote. “Since they technically cannot process and produce the permit in a short time, they give us temporary permits which are valid for five years. Meanwhile, they told us that we who were there this morning could return for our real permits starting with Tuesday next week, at mid-day. And it's very clear they will have them ready.” 


The reports by Muranga and Sebahire left me with a smile and were consistent 

with what I heard from other friends in Uganda that I called over the weekend to check whether what I had heard and read was the norm at UDLS.  Clearly something very good is happening in that department. UDLS appears to be working hard to realise its stated vision, namely, to use great customer service and leverage technology to provide and issue secure, world-class driver licences in a fast and effective manner.”


UDLS has branches at Mbarara, Fort Portal, Arua, Gulu, Mbale, Jinja and Kampala. This is significant progress from the days when driver licenses were only processed in Kampala. One hopes that the service will be expanded throughout the country. At a minimum, the short-to-medium-term goal should be to provide the licensing services at the headquarters of the 17 districts that constituted newly independent Uganda in 1962. 


This department in the Ministry of Works and Transport is setting high standards that should be the norm for all public and private services. The ordeal that makes dealing with the bureaucracy as dreaded as a visit to an old-fashioned dentist or obstetrician that considers pain relief unnecessary, should give way to a pleasant encounter that leaves the citizen feeling respected and satisfied.


Clearly the folks that served Muranga and Sebahire last week recognised that these two gentlemen were fellow citizens, not enemies. They recognised that these gentlemen, like millions of other citizens, were their employers, not the other way round. One hopes to read that this level of service is replicated in the other branches of UDLS.


Chances are high that the staff at UDLS (Mbarara) went home feeling pleased with the work they had done. Treating people with respect, no matter the circumstances, has a wonderful benefit to the person rendering the service.  As we read in Matthew 7:12, the words of Jesus Christ are very applicable to those who serve others. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” Jesus told the crowd in His Sermon on the Mount. Maintaining professional standards and morally sound practices is one way of fulfilling this Golden Rule. 

A word of caution though: corruption has not yet been completely expunged from the driver licencing system. I am very reliably informed that an individual who returned to Uganda recently, obtained a valid driver’s license without ever leaving his residence in Kampala. For a fee to “a broker”, he was issued a license that should keep him on the roads for the next few years. A driving test and medical examination were not required. 


Whether or not this is a rare occurrence is a matter that invites thorough interrogation by investigative journalists and the ministry’s leaders who wish to purge this key sector of the rot that can spoil its otherwise good name.


One feels good when one hears reports of pleasant, efficient, and corruption-free service. Professionalism and morally sound practices demonstrate real patriotism in action. We salute the folks at UDLS in Mbarara.


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