CUSTOMER CARE: When I spent six hours in a district office

For those who know me, you must be wondering how I survived this. Well, you will be surprised because instead of getting mad about this long wait; I rather felt so bad for the service providers I met on March 30, 2010 at the district office of Nyarugenge and at the bank.

For those who know me, you must be wondering how I survived this. Well, you will be surprised because instead of getting mad about this long wait; I rather felt so bad for the service providers I met on March 30, 2010 at the district office of Nyarugenge and at the bank.

I needed to renew my visa and was told at the Immigration Office to get a local tax receipt called “patente”. Since I didn’t know that I needed this “patente” for a visa, I didn’t pay for it at the time I was clearing my annual taxes at the beginning of March 2010.

When I arrived at this district, I first thought that something had happened. There were hundreds of people queuing. First, I panicked before realizing that the big crowd was there because it was the deadline for tax payments.

I simply can’t understand why people just wait till the last day to pay taxes they know they have to pay anyway.

People were fighting to get numbers in order to be part of the queues. The security guard was overwhelmed by aggressive people who all wanted to skip the long queues.

As I had no alternative because I needed to renew my visa; I calmly queued for two good hours. I was so relieved when my turn finally came.

But this was for a short while because the angry, exhausted and furious lady in that office asked me to produce a copy of my 2009 receipt before she could issue a new one for me.

Well; I had no idea at all where I had kept the old one. I never knew that I needed it. Last year, I used it just for the renewal of my visa.

I couldn’t understand why a big district office such as the Nyarugenge one could not have a computerized system where they could retrace all payments.

Obviously, this lady had no time for explanations. She got angry again when I asked her what I should do as I didn’t have the old one. I was frustrated to realize that I had just wasted two good hours in the heat for nothing.

Then I decided to look for the Executive Secretary to explain to him my predicament. The wait was still there because many people will just skip and enter the room without following the queue.

But I was impressed when I finally met a professional person who listened and found a solution for me together with one of his staff.

After the “Patente” issue was finally solved, I was faced with another ordeal. Apparently; I was supposed to pay another monthly tax called “Taxe de Nettoyage” meaning a Cleaning tax of 10,000.

I am one of the people who appreciate the cleanliness of the city and would have loved to participate but unfortunately; I never heard about this before.

Even though the queue was becoming bigger and wilder as the heat became unbearable in this office that wasn’t planned to receive hundreds of people at ago, the same gentleman took time to explain this new tax issue.

He even offered me a brochure of all the different types of taxes to be paid at the district levels but unfortunately everything was written entirely in Kinyarwanda.

After spending in all more than six hours between the district office and the bank; I think something needs to be done and some people need to be more responsible.
Solutions should be found for the long waiting moments in most public institutions.

My friends told me that I needed just to send someone there to do the queuing for me.

Everyone says that is how things happen and my experience was not an exception.

But should we just keep quiet and accept this type of service in our public institutions? Well; I didn’t know the simple operation of paying a “Patente” will take me six hours. Moreover; this has helped me to understand better service in certain public institutions.

And whether this queuing was done by someone else or by myself, it’s still a waste of time…and a waste of time means a waste of productivity not only for the individual but also for the nation as a whole.

The morale of my ordeal is on three aspects.
First, I think people should be advised to pay their taxes earlier instead of waiting for the last minute.

Probably a lot more of education needs to be done again by districts and by Rwandan Revenue Authority (RRA). Another suggestion could also be to have different deadlines for different tax payments.

I know people in certain banks who worked until 3am on March 30 and 31. I was also made to pay penalties on taxes I could have gladly paid before if the information had been disseminated in English.

Customer service is not only about people but also about systems. Important documents should also be in English or on official websites.

I also felt extremely sorry for the staff at the district office that had to manually write hundreds of receipt in a day.

We are in a modern time today and having to fill the same form for hundreds of people is archaic. A computerized system could be much simpler and make the staff lives easier. 

Martin Luther King Jr says that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
So let’s talk about these issues so that solutions can be found for the development of our country.

The author is a customer service consultant working in Rwanda

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