Last week, I read a news item about a woman who has been arrested for duping people who paid to acquire passports through her. Among many comments on Facebook were several that were variants of “It is impossible to acquire a licence or a passport in Ghana the right way”. I decided that my very annoying story must be told just to prove it is possible. Now this story is not in any way suggesting that corruption does not exist in these offices or getting these seemingly ‘easy’ items is not quite cumbersome. I just want to prove it is possible, full stop. Just possible. Stressful, yes. But possible.
When I had to get my licence in 2009, I wanted to debunk the theory that it was impossible to get a licence the right way. It was the path I decided to choose. Coupled with the fact that I want to see the extent to which it is possible to survive in Ghana without paying a bribe. Great ambition, but difficult to achieve.
My first time in the DVLA office in 37 for my licence was in February, 2009. I do not remember the events quite clearly but I do know this initial stage was not painful. I filled the required forms, got my learner’s licence and was given a July date for my written test. I paid a total of GHS 36 that day. In July however, I had to prepare for school so I did not take the test. I had heard the penalty for changing a test date was GHS 5 so I decided to relax and take the test during my long vacation in June the following year.
June 2010. I reported at the DVLA office to take my test. Before the test started, a security man (I believe) strolled round the room to check the test date slips. When he informed me I needed to pay the penalty, I simply asked where I had to go to, my GHS 5 ready. I got to the counter and the teller asked me to pay GHS 50. For a second, I thought she was mistaken. I asked her to repeat herself. When I realised I was really supposed to pay ten times what I had budgeted, I asked for an explanation. I was told my entire receipt had expired so I had to start the whole process again but I be allowed to write the test that day. I was confused. Why did I have to pay for a learner’s licence, learner’s plate and books that I already had because my receipt had ‘expired’? Really? Receipts expire? When they have no expiry dates? When the teller realised I was not willing to let the issue go, she directed me to someone in ‘higher’ authority. My main argument with this man when I went to see him was if the receipt really had expired, why was there no expiry date on it? He calmly explained to me that a meeting had been held in February that year (2010) to change the validity of receipts issued by DVLA from 3 years to 1 year. Okay. Fair enough. So there was some expiration period. But hold on. This meeting was held in February 2010. My receipt was issued in February 2009. Dear friends, should I be affected by this new rule? Thanks for answering no. This man however did not agree with me. When I argued further, he directed me to go and see his boss. I walked out. Walked out of that DVLA office with the intention never to return. I didn’t know how I would eventually get my licence. I just knew they had annoyed me beyond reasoning.
Fast forward to 2013. A friend had just gotten his licence from the DVLA office in Tema and the process had been smooth. Sharp! Off I went. That was in June 2013. The cost for the learner’s licence etc was now GHS 80+. I was given a date in September for my test.
September 2013. I got to the office before 9 am. I took my computerized test around 10:30 am. I must mention here that one of the invigilators tried to get me to change one of my answers that was supposedly wrong. Apart from the fact that I did not believe it was wrong, I did not go with what he said because I wanted a clean slate so that I can tell this story some day to you, my lovely readers. I must also admit I was scared I might end up getting a mark shy of the pass mark but I built up courage. Those are normal fears that come with challenging the status quo. My results came and I had passed! (I had 23 out of 30; the pass mark is 21) The invigilator laughed at me and said I could have made 24. I laughed and told him I had passed after all. After all, this no be WASSCE. Anyway. I was given a date in October for my on-road test.
October 2013. I reported before 7 am at the office. I used a friend’s car for the test. Apart from forgetting to turn on my traffic indicator light (‘trafigator’) twice, everything else was perfect. The instructor advised me to always remember to turn it on and handed me my forms for the next stage. I was told to come back in a week. Ah ba! Charley, this one diɛɛ, I was frustrated. A young man told my friend and I that there was ‘a way’ to get it that day. Oya! I run away. No temptation!
Later in October 2013. I reported at the office before 8 am. At the final stage, I was told I needed to return my learner’s licence. I had left it in my friend’s car on the day of the test. How careless of me! I was directed to pay a penalty for that, but apparently, that was not valid. I left the Tema DVLA office and went to my friend’s house around Ashaiman to pick it up. When I returned with it, two workers in the office were surprised I had gone all the way for it. But that was the only solution right? Of course. I paid GHS 70+ and I was done.
If you see the photograph of my licence (no, I wouldn’t upload it ;-)), you would notice I look very tired and upset. That’s exactly how I felt when I got back, but hey, I smiled at the end. I had my licence. For the right price. (About GHS 160 in total then) And I can tell this story. It was painful. It wasted my time. But it was possible. And that is the moral of my story. If you have the time and the patience, go through the right way of getting stuff in Ghana. If we are able to slowly put the goro boys and connection men (and women) out of business, maybe, just maybe, corruption would begin to decrease in Ghana.
The question I have once asked myself is : “What if I urgently needed the licence for a new job or something? What would I have done?” My answer, I don’t know. Maybe I’d advise you to seek these things when they are not a necessity yet. But admittedly, that is a weak answer. I judge you not for having no choice but to pay someone because you needed it done urgently. I only want to prove that is possible. Full stop.
Got some good or bad DVLA/ passport office experiences to share? Leave it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by.