Fix roads, mindsets!

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TEN years ago I made the “suicidal decision” of catching a train to Harare for a very important business meeting.

My simple reasoning was that since my meeting was on the following day at ten in the morning I would simply catch the eight o clock evening train, sleep in the train and arrive in the morning well in time for this crucial business meeting.

The trip was to be a living nightmare as the train stopped on numerous occasions in the middle of nowhere with nobody bothering to explain what was causing the delays or at least apologising.

To cut a long story short I arrived in Harare at around at an incredible time of twelve noon and missed my crucial meeting.

This was the epitome of poor service delivery and deplorable customer care. That was the last time I caught a train in Zimbabwe and I wonder how many tourists or indeed ordinary Zimbabweans have suffered at the hands of such institutional incompetence.

Poor service delivery
Poor service delivery by State enterprises and agencies is not just a function of undercapitalisation and dilapidated equipment, but also dilapidated attitudes as well as poor work ethics. A good example is the newly-opened Joshua Nkomo International Airport. To be fair the Transport and Infrastructural Development ministry did a good job although it took them almost a decade.

The airport is quite beautiful and does justice to the legacy of Father Zimbabwe. The airport was fixed, but I am sorry to say if the work culture and customer service was not fixed both the airport and the airline (Air Zimbabwe) will be rapidly reduced into a wasteland or a ruin. Why is it that every State institution seems to be competing to turn wine into water?

On more than two occasions in a space of a week flights have been delayed without anybody from either the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe or Air Zimbabwe bothering to explain what had happened.

This is very bad for the country’s image as mainly businessmen and tourists use the airport and this could dent our ability of marketing the country as a tourist or investment destination.

I was also amused on Sunday to see a man wearing a green Zanu PF cap trying to use his Zanuness to jump the checking in queue while a host of journalists from a newly-licensed Harare-based radio station tried to use their “wanna be” celebrity status to do the same. Very little was done to manage the small queue by airport security or marshals resulting in this chaos.

The queue did not even have more than twenty people and it took hours to attend to these few people whereas in other airports such as OR Tambo Airport, SA, it takes them minutes to clear much more people. If this continues that airport (JM International) and the airline will soon become a shell.

It is not really just about fixing the infrastructure, but it is also about fixing mindsets, poor customer care and repelling service delivery.

One might wonder what customer care for an “elite “group of people at some fancy airport has to do with struggling Zimbabweans trying to catch a pirate taxi on sixth avenue extension or “Egodini”.

The point is tourists and potential investors are turned off by such poor institutional behavior and in the long run a moment of indiscretion by just one official or employee can cost the country millions of dollars in investment or tourism which would then help the person struggling to get five rand at Egodini to get a decent job.

Happily the new Constitution enshrines principles which underpin good service delivery in State institutions and agencies. Section 194 (d) states that services must be provided impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias and paragraph (e) states that people’s need must be responded to in time.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and we expect all public institutions which provide vital services to adhere to such tenets of the supreme law of the land.

The development of modern rail, road and air infrastructure is pivotal and cardinal to development of the tourism industry and indeed other economic activities including service industries.

However, even if we had airports the size of Oliver Tambo or JF Kennedy Airport without developing the human customer care and service delivery software, we will simply be putting old wine in new wine in old wineskins.

Provision of timely, affordable, quality services is crucial and at times it may not cost anything, but just simple communication, courtesy and customer service.

Understandably the National Railways of Zimbabwe and Air Zimbabwe are facing viability problems, but simple customer care is not costly and in actual fact, good customer care can help in making these entities more viable as more people will consume their services.

Poor customer care is something that haunts not only the transport sector, but also health institutions, banks, the police and virtually every government agency.

The Constitution now obliges these institutions and agencies to exercise good public administration, it’s time they walked the talk.

Mayibuye!

 Dumisani Nkomo is an activist and opinion leader