Digitizing government services appears to be failing

Digitizing government services appears to be failing

I was quite upbeat when I learned that if you reside in Gauteng (a province in South Africa), you can’t just walk-in into the local traffic department office’ to renew your driver’s license, you have to book an appointment online and you get allocated a specific date and time. So, I made my way to the Randburg Licensing Department’s offices, I expected to be in and out of there swiftly than on previous occasions when I would just walk in and sit in the queue after queue for hours.

I should’ve curbed my enthusiasm as soon as I was asked on arrival to complete a paper form, with exactly the same information I had completed online, the queue to get that piece of paper completed and signed off took about 15 minutes.

Thereafter, the waiting started after I, like many others, were instructed to go “upstairs.” After climbing a few stairs, I bumped into a queue, which started on the stairs on the way to “upstairs.”

Not knowing where I was supposed to go I looked around at the signage just to make sure I am at the right place for my 12h10 appointment because surely not everyone in this queue was booked for the same time as me?

Digitizing government services appears to be failing

Looking at the signage and from previous experience, I now knew that the next step was the eye tests and fingerprints, but I couldn’t understand why after being asked to come at a specific time I had to still stand in what looked like a very long queue that moved about a meter forward every 1 hour.

Without any civil servants in sight and not much further instructions, I asked my fellow queue mates what time were their appointments. This is when my heart sank a bit. The times ranged from people who were late and were told to come at 9am (I was “booked” for 12h10pm and I was on time) to people who were only “booked” to be there an hour two later. To make matters worse, a few people literally had no “bookings” and just walked into the offices to renew their driver’s licenses like “old days.”

Fast forward 3 hours (yes, THREE HOURS) later, I was finally now doing my eye tests and fingerprints. The person who administered that process looked exhausted, was distracted and clearly couldn’t wait to go home. Then, it was on to the next queue to pay for everything and leave. That took about 30 minutes before I was instructed I had to go to another cashier “downstairs” to pay for traffic fines and then return back to that queue again.

Finally, after approximately 4+ hours of queues, I was on my way out.

But, why do I highlight this very boring process?

It’s simple, there’s a lot of talk of using technology for delivering government services but from observing and being a customer of many of these offerings, it looks like whoever is implementing them is completely detached from the people and the processes involved.

Hence, generally speaking, digital government is failing.

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