Obulala na Amani

Missing files? Not any more, says AG as registrar gets computers

By Mark Agutu, Nairobi, Thursday July 12 2007
Rows and rows of shelves sagging under the weight of files and long, winding queues of clients waiting to be served.

ag office
An employee at Sheria House shows the old filing system that is being replaced by electronic storage of data.
Tired looking and often ill-tempered workers shuffle between the shelves and cabinets, extracting a file here and returning another there under unrelenting and exasperated glares from the queues. This is the reality that has for years pervaded one of the country’s important premises - the Registrar General’s offices. Add to this the long-tolerated misfortune of having to part with a “token” for a file to appear after being declared untraceable and you had an office few wanted to visit, except out of extreme necessity.

But visit it they have to for the Registrar General offices – as the name suggests - handles all matters on registration of companies and societies and which many Kenyans at one time or another have to seek, either as individuals or groups. This same scenario is replicated at the registration of births and deaths department which though under a different ministry – Immigration and Registration of Persons – is hosted at Sheria House and exhibits the same problems as those at the registrar of companies and societies.

Document orientated as they are, these services not only churn out volumes of papers that service seekers carry away but generate equally generous volumes that are left in the respective offices. It is the latter category that has left these offices and workers on the throes of confusion as they struggle to file and preserve documents well and in a manner that makes retrieval easy.

Coming against a background of high public expectation of speedy and efficient services, the task of employees in these offices is nothing but daunting. No wonder some deem it deserving to, unofficially, demand a “token” from the service seekers to help speed up the process. This scenario has also given rise to the phenomenon of brokers or middlemen who get the certificates on behalf of the clients but at a fee for themselves and the corrupt workers at the registry.

However after many years, this nightmare for both employees in these offices and the public seeking the services could be nearing an end. The government has embarked on a major refurbishment project at the Companies’ Registry that when completed would ensure speedy and efficient delivery of services.

It has been refurbished and a digital database is currently being installed, promising to make the dream of having company information at the touch of a button a reality. Pending completion of installation, those seeking this information will still have to visit Sheria House. The new look registry opened to the public on Wednesday, comes with all the hallmarks of a modern office.

There are new workstations with clear glass partitions for transparency, more service counters, secured storage of company-related information files and a customer care desk. The package also comprises controlled and secured documents inspection room for clients, a digital registry with distributed data points besides a monitoring and evaluation system and an enhanced general ambience of the office.

And as a pointer to the good years ahead for both the staff and their clients, an estimated backlog of over 500,000 documents have been sorted and filed, providing accurate and reliable information on registered companies. In addition, over 150,000 backlog of Business Names and limited liability companies’ files have been entered into a database. This has been merged with existing database where duplicate companies’ names and numbers will be identified and removed.

The high point of the whole venture is the installation of the web-based Electronic Document Management System for creating, capturing, managing, delivering and archiving large volumes of documents and content. The DMS will handle scanned documents images, electronic documents, e-mails and other electronic data outputs. The system has been bought and is being customized to suit the department’s requirements.

Once fully operational, the DMS will hasten the company registration process and also provide an electronic replicate of a company’s file. With the introduction of a document management system, the registry will do away with the manual processing of the documents  The end result is that the entire registration process will be conducted under one roof, with physical barriers removed to ease distribution of documents.

It has also been recommended that the project would later be scaled up to include bulk scanning of all existing documents, establishment of an offshore record centre, availing online name search and e-filing of all statutory documents and decentralisation of the registration services to the districts. Attorney General Amos Wako and the Solicitor General Wanjuki Muchemi were all full of praises for the system during the launch on Wednesday.

The launch came at the end of 100 days which the implementing officers had given themselves to carry out the exercise under the Rapid Result Initiative. According to Mr Wako, a registry that is poorly managed and outdated and whose record keeping systems could not be relied on was not only a bastion for corruption but also negatively impacts on local and foreign investor confidence.

Saying it would now be easier to trace companies which do not meet the requirements of the law such as filing of returns, Mr Wako sent out a warning: “Companies are put on notice to ensure that their records are in order and returns duly filed within 30 days or they will face prosecution.’’ He added: “Gone are the days of files that cannot be traced and brokers between the customer and the public official which promoted corruption. Gone are the days of not having a reliable and up-to date company registry file.”

As the public anticipate better services at the company registry, they are no doubt hungering for similar changes at the Registrar of Births and Deaths and Registrar of Persons – the office charged with issuance of national identity cards. The Companies’ Registry was established in 1902 in Mombasa under the then British East African Protectorate before being transferred to Nairobi. It was inherited from the colonial government in 1962.

Headed by the Registrar General, the department is one of those under the oversight of the Attorney General.  The others are Public Prosecution, Civil Litigation, Treaties and Agreement, Administrator-General, Advocates Complaints Commission, Legislative Drafting and Finance and Administration. 

Source: Nation Media