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Is this corruption at Sheria House?


Kenyans government officials are reputed to be amongst the most corrupt creatures on earth, but I have heard them challenge that allegation and argue about the definition of corruption. There are times when even I wonder whether it’s corruption … a police officer asking for payment to not issue a ticket – that’s obvious, but what about this case?

Is it corruption when a government officer will not give you a receipt for a service provided?

This happened at Sheria House recently. As all Kenyans know, anyone trying to get married in Nairobi must go through Sheria House to register. It’s supposed to be a quick formality, and getting married is supposed to be one of the best things you can do in your life right?

So, like all aspiring couples you have to go to Sheria House to get information because there is nothing on any website. There are no notice boards, no bulletins, no document you can get anywhere else.  You have to to the go down to Sheria House in the middle of the city of Nairobi. In the first office, there you get some of the information necessary and it’s taped onto a desk. All it tells you is what to do if you are a Kenyan marrying a Kenyan and and costs associated with getting married. If you are not Kenyan, most of what you need to know is only available by talking to the officers in charge. This lack of transparency hiding of information should have raised our suspicions…. but we were in love and just looking forward to getting married… read on..

Different strokes for different folks – foreigners pay more!
Amazingly, there are three different types of marriages depending on who you are and who you are marrying – no I’m not talking about Christian Islam issues, I’m talking about if you are a foreigner, or if you are marrying a foreigner.

  1. A Kenyan marrying a Kenyan has only to produce identification and proof of age.
  2. A foreigner marrying a foreigner has to produce identification, proof they aren’t already married, and more money than Kenyans marrying.
  3. A foreigner marrying a Kenyan is as above.
  4. But a Kenyan marrying a foreigner must produce an Affidavit, the wedding invitation!, birth certificate, and passport . There is no information about what this Affidavit must contain. This must be done at least 21 days before the wedding date.
  5. So, you go to the lawyers and they ask you what to put in the affidavit, you don’t know, the lawyers call Sheria House and they can’t answer questions, they simply hang up on you, .. it seems they don’t know what you are to put into the document. Or perhaps it simply doesn’t’ matter. The documents person at Sheria House simply needs to have a document that says “Affidavit”.

So, Ksh 1,500 later, Affidavit in hand, return to Sheria House to submit documents. Write your name on a list in the office, then enter a very long line in a very ugly and noisy corridor and wait.
A few hours later your name may be called, but if you just wait in the office you will see that the queue and the list are sometimes.. jumped. That’s your first sign of corruption in this government office.

Ok, you see the lady who is supposed to interview you – expecting questions? Forget it, she checks the papers and documents and informs you that it will cost 10,500 to get married at Sheria House. But who in their right mind wants to get married at Sheria House? It’s an ugly, noisy and stuffy place filled to the brim with pregnant brides, beach boys and their mamas, … the wedding office with red carpet and fake flower arrangements is just not the memory you want of your BIG DAY.

We wanted a proper out door wedding with friends and flowers … you know the thing? Well, in that case we must pay an additional fee of Ksh 30,000 (USD 400) if we want a Sheria House person to come do the actual legal stuff.

A friends’s wedding was almost ruined when the Sheria House person called on the big day saying that she was tied up and couldn’t make it, could they postpone! Of course they couldn’t, and off course she wasn’t tied up when more funds and a taxi were promised. We were not going to have that kind of crap stressing us out on our wedding day.

So, we decided that even though we are aethiests, we could get a priest to marry us. The lady informs us that we need to give her the name, details and address of the priest who is marrying us. Information that we don’t have at hand.

And wait a minute,, it’s not that simple. The groom is not Kenyan, only certain priests can marry you under Cap 500. That’s the law!  So .. go away and get the name.

What about the 21 days we worry? No problem, she says,  even if you come a week before it will be ok. We know you now.

Nice lady, we think, and sigh with relief (which it turns out later was totally misplaced). Why didn’t we smell a rat? Naive, eager, gullible?

We spend the next few days inquiring about priests – all of the ones we talk to are confused about the process we’ve been told to follow, and advise us to return to Sheria House to talk to someone and get things explained properly. A man called John at Sheria House generously offers to help and takes our documents. He says he can do the wedding himself and asks us to come back the next day.

The next day he says “The Madam has your papers, you have to go see her to get them back”

We stand in the very long queue for 3 more hours to see “The Madam”

Nothiong could have prepared us for her Fury when our turn came round. She is enraged, and shouts at us for going to see her junior officer! How dare you, we she says! We are totally confused. What the Fuck? We tell her we are confused, she says our papers are not signed – that we were to go to room 106 and get them signed and nobody can help us until that is done. And, we should stop going behind her back!

We go to room 106, a guy doesn’t even look at the papers, signs them and we go back to “The Madam” (what the hell is this guys purpose in the big scheme of thing?)

We queue to see “The Madam” again and she asks us what help we need – we tell her we can’t find a priest, time is running out and we’ve decided on a Sheria House person coming to our wedding. We need to finalize.

I’m busy on your date she says. But John is available we suggest. Oh she’s says, John (not his real name) can help you? Then go and see John! But she will not enter the date in her calendar until we have Johns confirmation. Come back and see me after you’ve confirmed with him.

Back down the corridor, but John tells us he cannot help us. Now, you see, he is going on leave and will not be available on our wedding date. But you said you could last time we met! Things have changed, my leave application has been approved. You have to go see “The Madam” for help.
Back up the corridor and the queue, “The Madam” smirks at us, so John cant help you? What do you want me to do? We need someone to marry us. But I’m busy and I don’t have any other staff on that day.

Ok, then we will do a Sheria House wedding before hand. She looks at her calendar. I have no dates available. You see you left things until too late.  You will have to delay your wedding. Please, we beg, can’t you just add one more wedding on any of the next few days? “I can’t overwork my staff with an “extra wedding” she shouts. Just have the wedding ceremony as planned, and then come back afterwards to finalise the legalities she offers. No we can’t do that.

Then delay your wedding she resolves.  No, we can’t, people are flying in from overseas, the venue is already booked and paid for. Well I can’t help you. I’m busy. You see there are many more people  in the queue waiting to see me.

Ok we are now thinking out of the box. What about marrying us before the wedding date. No, I’m too busy on the next two weekends. We’ll come to wherever you are, we plead. No, I’m too busy. What about John we suggest? Ok, yes, John can marry you before he goes on leave. You go and agree with John then come back to me.

Shuttling back down the corridor, we find John hurriedly leaving for lunch, promises to be back ty 2 pm. We wait in the stuffy corridor. He gets back at 3.30 pm. She said that? He says, then insists he can’t do anything until he talks to “ the Madam”.
A few minutes later he returns, I can’t work when I’m on leave. You see, I’ll be officially off duty. When do you go on leave – Monday (It’s Wednesday), Ok, what about today, tomorrow, Saturday? No we can’t do it on weekdays. I cant do it on Saturday because I hand over on Friday. You have to go back and see “The Madam” for help. There’s no point pleading with him. We go back up the corridor.
Now I’m almost in tears. I realise why nobody in Sheria House is smiling, the happiest day of most couples lives are being ruined by stupid bureaucrats.
It’s 5 pm and people want to go home. We beg and beseech “the Madam” who seems to be enjoying the drama unfolding, she calls John on her cell and laughing says “Paula is crying now, can you help them” …we’re sent back to Johns office, he has finally agreed to do the formalities of the wedding this Saturday (3 days away). The actual wedding is still 2 weeks away.
He is smiling. You see they are going to help us after all! We are relieved… then he says… but you know there’s an extra fee, I’ll be working on my day off, …..
How much is the fee we ask?
How much can you pay? He responds

How much do you normally charge?

15k! gulp, ok,
But you know I can’t issue a receipt…

Silence ….

Cash is transferred behind closed doors, forms are filled and he is smiling.

On Saturday he turns up exactly on time and does the necessary, d rinks a Soda, wishes us a good life and disappears on leave. We were legally married but really quite annoyed. Everything about the Sheria House experience was ugly.
Was this corruption – sanctioned from the top of Sheria House? Why can’t they issue receipts?
The difference in price for a Sheria House wedding vs an out of Sheria House wedding is Ksh5,500 which probably is the fee given to the officer who takes his weekend off to do it. Why do they charge this additional variable amount?

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May 24, 2010 - Posted by | corruption

9 Comments »

  1. I admire your patience, I would have told Sheria House to go to hell long ago and simply marry legally in your husband’s country which, by the way, would make it more valid. Marriage is of the heart so the legalities are not so pressing.

    I purposely avoided any African bureacracy when marrying my wife (she is Zambian) knowing plenty of bribes would have been implied during the process. We married in the USA with absolutely no hassles.

    I have been through similar headaches while trying to do other things in Africa and it infuriates me. Corruption is so ingrained in many systems. Burundi is no exception. Paula, please just say no for any future incidences and if you find yourself in a Sheria House situation again, just walk away and say “forget it”. You might mention your journalism as well so that they know you will not leave quietly and the world will know of what’s going on.

    Comment by Marc N | May 24, 2010 | Reply

  2. am afraid I only read half your story before I gave up. The shit you had to go through is unbelievable – I’ve been to that part of Sheria Hse accidentally and dreaded ever having to actually use it. It seemed geared up for chaos and misery and your experiences show just that. My experience with Sheria Hse has been on the other side – Comapnies Hse, where its not really that chaotic, a bit more organised but still a pain in the butt. Efficient is most definitely one thing Sheria Hse is not, and therefore the recent award of most efficient Govt Dept by the Prezo to the AG was to me just unbelievable. Computerisation, automation is the only way forward, but its very slow in coming.

    Comment by BlackMambo | May 28, 2010 | Reply

    • Sorry, it was a long post – I needed to get it off my shoulders. I wrote to KACC and they are looking into it. Fingers crossed …

      Comment by paulakahumbu | May 28, 2010 | Reply

  3. That one is a hard one. If you don’t mind, I’ll talk about it on my site.

    Comment by Al Kags | May 28, 2010 | Reply

    • no problem, talk away.

      Comment by paulakahumbu | May 28, 2010 | Reply

  4. my goodness, what a tale! your resilience is noteworthy. may i share this on my site?

    Comment by Mwikali | July 5, 2010 | Reply

    • Yes of course – share away – lets get these corrupt officials removed, charged and punished!!!

      Comment by paulakahumbu | July 6, 2010 | Reply

  5. what a sad start. I am sure the rest of your marriage will be the very best, you decerve it. I recognize the story from other institutions in Kenya. I fear now for the procedure I am putting my kenyan fiancee through. We will marrie in Denmark and he needs ‘Certificate of no Empediment to Marriage’. He is going Sheria House tomorrow and I cant wait to know the cost of the document. Hope he will make it before coming to Denmark 30.sept. Any surgestions anyone?

    Comment by Evy Braarup | September 1, 2010 | Reply

  6. OMG!!! this is super depressing!! doesn’t encourage me much, i’m going to apply for a certificate of non-impediment…from abroad!! (yeah wish me luck 😦 ) the embassy suggests to do it via my relatives in kenya as the process may take over a year (SERIOUSLY!!) if i go through them!!

    Comment by ozjaber | October 13, 2010 | Reply


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