Can one individual have such a profound impact?
Towards the middle of the recent Windhoek Show, long queues started forming around the back end of the President’s Hall. From the Wednesday onward, it became so obvious that something very popular was either taking place or offered in this neglected corner of the showgrounds, I simply had to check it out.
I expected some unrepeatable special on a very fancy or new product. I went there hoping to find something like an iPhone 5 offered for one thousand dollars, or a new bakkie for N$50,000.
Great was my astonishment when I learned the people in the queues are waiting their turn to enter the Home Affairs cubicle.
It used to be in the past that the words Home Affairs were regarded as offensive, only used in the type of remark one would spitefully make at a braai to upset everybody else and spoil the party.
Talking to a couple that has just left the Home Affairs cubicle at the show, it transpired that everybody in the long queue was waiting to get their turn to submit application for this and for that. I left it at that, marvelling at the change that must have occurred to make Home Affairs such a popular institution.
Apparently, I was told, some of the show’s early visitors have discovered that Home Affairs was offering a comprehensive one-stop service at their show stand where you could apply for anything that pertains to citizenship and immigration. Also, after a few days, word got around that this service was provided at a highly professional and efficient level, hence the crowd of people that descended on the Home Affairs cubicle. Still, despite a fairly long queue, I was informed by other people that the actual waiting time to be helped was in the order of about fifteen minutes, and that within another ten minutes, submitting the paperwork has been concluded.
I have to confess, I found this hard to believe.
Home Affairs used to be the hallmark of incompetence. The main service hall in the CBD is the origin of many a horror story, some of which I was told, and other which I have experienced myself.
Waiting at Home Affairs in a queue for an hour was not the exception.
Then when you got to the front of the queue only to be told it is the wrong counter and you have to stand in another queue, was exasperating. Most people I know who had to go sort out some affairs at Home Affairs, usually allocated an entire morning for the sole purpose of getting some or other application in.
In the mean time, I have put the Show experience out of my mind, until more recently, when a visit was required to the service hall in the CBD.
What an unbelievable surprise. The hall itself has been revamped. Now there are properly demarcated counters with large billboards giving exact instructions regarding type of documentation required, type of document issued, and other information on the process. Also the inside of the hall has undergone a dramatic redesign with chairs, small tables for writing, and clearly marked queueing lanes. But the best of all was that there were hardly any queue to speak of.
The most profound change has occurred in the officials now serving the public. Efficiency, politeness and competence have become the new marching creed.
It then struck me that Home Affairs got a new boss. I think it was early last year or perhaps late 2012.
Whichever, the Honourable Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana has effected some sweeping improvements at her ministry, the most important of which I suspect is her insistence that her officials serve the public and not themselves.
Home Affairs used to be one of those horror public institutions. It acquired a reputation for incompetence, dishonesty and a general lack of concern.
That is definitely no longer the case. From my own recent experience I can state that the transformation is both impressive and pervasive.
And this is not the isolated opinion of one guy that just happened to get lucky during the few visits he had to make, I also got similar feedback from other people who had dealings there during this year.
Given what a basket case Home Affairs used to be, it demonstrates that any institution can be turned around if the leadership and political will are in place and becomes a part of that institution’s operating culture.
I am just wondering, who was in charge of Home Affairs before the formidable lady? Will that person be in the new government?