Sunday, 24 October, 2021

Middlemen having a field day at transport offices


By CK Khanal

Kathmandu, Nov. 15: Transport Management Offices under the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) are the busiest of government offices, visited by a large number of service seekers every working day.
These offices issue and renew driving licenses, register and renew vehicles and provide pollution test stickers.
Of late, the DoTM has taken digital initiatives to ease the distribution of smart license, application for driving license and registration of vehicles, among others.
However, service seekers still share bitter experiences regarding the quality of services provided by the offices and unethical practices prevalent there.
In this context, this reporter and colleagues from its sister publication, Gorkhapatra daily, visited the license section of the Transport Management Office at Ekantakuna, Lalitpur, on Thursday for a snapshot of work at the office and its service delivery situation.
The condition of the office, service delivery and grievance handling had far from generated customer satisfaction.
Presence of middlemen
When this reporter reached the office premises at 9:30 am, more than a dozen middlemen had already been there to harass and heckle the service seekers. When the service seekers, including this reporter, tried to enter the office, middlemen offered assistance for early and easy services.
Asked about help to obtain a new license, a middleman assured, “You will get the license if you just appeared in the biometric, written exam and trial. You need not even pass the trial exam.”
He said that his house was 14 kilometres away from the office and he had been working as a middleman for the last 16 years. He said he would offer the service for just Rs. 2,000.
Most of the middlemen seemed aged between 20 and 50 years, and, interestingly, a majority of them were women.
Some women who were sitting in front of the office as vendors, some with bottled mineral water, were also heard telling the service seekers that they would help them get their work done in the office.
One of the improvements in the issuance of driving license was that none of the middlemen were found offering license without appearing in the written test and trial. In the past, they were said to have provided licenses without meeting these requirements.
People still rely on middlemen
Though a majority

of service seekers were ignoring the offers by the middlemen, a few of them were seeking their services. Some service seekers were in a bargain with the middlemen on the fees while others were simply following the middlemen.
Some middlemen were initiating the process by filling up the online forms for the license exam of the service seekers.
One of the service seekers, who had been there for written license exam on Thursday, said that there was no possibility of taking service from the office without support of the middlemen. “Getting service on our own is very problematic and time consuming. Paying Rs. 2,000 is not a big deal if we get easy service from the mediation of some persons,” he said hiding his real name and address.
License printing main problem
One of the major grievances faced by the service seekers was the delay in getting smart licenses or correcting the printing defects. The service seekers, who were there to ask about the status of their license, said that they had not got the license even in one year and a half after they passed the exams. Some were complaining about technical errors in the data system of the office.
Pradeep Kunwar of Arghakhanchi, showing his license with category of ‘A’ and ‘B’ issued by the same office and the record of the office justifying his success in each exam and trial, said that his record of ‘B’ graded license was not found in the software for its renewal.
An employee of the office said that both the service seekers and staff members of the office were troubled due to mistakes made by the contracted license printing company.
He said that out of 100 smart licenses printed, up to 95 had been found defective at a time. He showed a pack of five printed smart licenses saying that their correct number should have been 10, not what was printed.
Voice of the office chief
Chief of the office Damber Bahadur Chand said that he had made improvements in infrastructure and service delivery in the office after his took up the job some six months ago.
Chand, however, admitted that he was not able to make the office middlemen-free. “We used to chase middlemen with the support of Nepal Police in the interval of some time, but they started coming after a week,” he said.
When the reporters reached his office, Chand even telephoned the police office with a request that all the middlemen be sent out of his office. But no policemen came.
He said that the inability to free the transportation office from the middlemen was due to the trust shown by the service seekers to the middlemen. He said that the office was facing problems due to glitches in the software. Work in the office got hampered that way at least once every day, he said.
“Another major problem faced by the office is it is understaffed. To provide good services, we need at least 100 employees in place of the 38 we have now,” he said.
According to him, around 3,000 service seekers visit the office every day. Chand said that the delay in printing licenses and mistakes on them had also been adversely affecting the image of the transport office in the eyes of the service seekers.