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Paperwork odyssey: the pain of getting your documents in order

Many wonder why so much documentation is even necessary when a centralised national database exists

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PUBLISHED October 02, 2022

Why in today’s digital age, the common man has to run between departments and offices to get their documents completed? The oft-asked question highlights the hassle faced by people who require several documents. It is also a money minting business.

Every year, at the time of university admissions or after intermediate and A level examinations, huge queues of people—who are there to get their domicile certification and Permanent Residence Certificates (PRC)—are seen in front of district commissioner offices. These are requirements for public universities. One of the issues that this practice raises is the hefty fees that DC offices charge in most of the cases.

Is Pakistan a document-dependent nation?

“Why, in the first place, do we need a domicile and PRC when we have a CNIC that has our address and is issued through a federal authority?” asks Abdul Karim, 47. Karim is at DC East office, accompanying his daughter who has applied at NED. Distressed, he says that the DC office asked him to get a file made, and it is a great hassle in a place with many counters. “There is no fixed amount; counter operators have different fees for different categories—whether we want the DC to sign it the same day or after a week.”

Karim’s story is just one case. Thousands of people get these documents made from district offices—documents that do not have any value other than for application for admission in government universities and for government jobs. Domicile and PRC are made on the district level and come under the provincial government rules. Birth, death, marriage, and divorce registration certificates are made through union council (UC), costing fees of varying amounts.

Given the tags of “important” and “required” documents, these certificates cost thousands of rupees. “How can a middle-class person keep doing this? I had to take two-day unpaid leave from my office to get domicile and PRC made for my daughter for her application of admission at DUHS. But why do we need all this in the first place? Why can't we get all our documents from one office?” says Irshad Ahmed. To avoid the hassle next year, he has also applied for the documents required for his son’s admission.

A number of small tables with typewriters—makeshift counters—are set up outside every DC office. “We are just here to help people make a file so that when it is submitted to the DC office for signature, it doesn’t lack any document. We charge for our services,” says Ahmed Ali who has been working outside a DC office for the last two decades. He explains that different fees are charged for different services; if a file is made, it costs Rs 4,500 for domicile, PRC, and form D. It takes five-seven working days to get the signed document, but if an applicant needs it urgently, they have to pay more. For the file to move forward, Ali and others like him also have to pay extra to officers in the DC office.

Since the digitalisation of documents and collection of data, the system has changed a great deal. Just two decades ago, getting all documents made on time was not the norm, and that later caused problems. “Thirty years ago, when I got the birth certificate of my firstborn, I was unconcerned about the spelling of her name, and so was the officer in the zonal municipal committee (ZMC). Today my daughter had to go from one office to another to have her name corrected. Now ZMCs are not operational, and birth certificates need NADRA documentation,” says Muhammad Saleem. His family B-form has been issued from NADRA.

Saleem says that even with a B-form, NADRA officials do not follow a set format. He had been issued a B-form in which only three of his six children’s names were written in full. “I didn’t realize it would be a big problem until my younger children went to get their CNICs made and were told that they couldn’t have a surname in their CNICs. To get it corrected, they had to get all their educational documentation, from matriculation to university, changed.” He wonders why NADRA doesn’t have a fixed template in which all details are added and names in English and Urdu are incorporated. In Pakistan, passport and bank documentations are in English. Incorrectly spelled and incomplete names in B-forms create an unnecessary hassle for average citizens.

One-window system

The existing system is quite complicated. “When a child is born, parents have to present the hospital birth certificate along with the copies of their CNICs for issuance of a a birth certificate. UCs issue birth certificates, but the data is synchronized with NADRA,” explains a UC officer in Nazimabad. UC adds the data in the system that is linked to NADRA. This mechanism was started in 2006 to keep track of the data for NADRA to further refine the data for their use for CNIC and B-form purposes.

“NADRA doesn’t own this data and is therefore unauthorized to verify it, but NADRA can use it for its verification purposes,” says a senior NADRA official on condition of anonymity. He adds that NADRA might come to a consensus with DC offices so that data can be centralized to make the process easy for people, but at the moment, all such documentation cannot be brought under one roof because all departments are different entities, run by different sections of government. NADRA is a federal department while DCs and UCs work on a provincial level.

All these entities having different jurisdictions create various difficulties. “To bring ease to the public, there should be one system, but the demand for documentation also varies. Many departments only accept a B-form that enlists all children of a family, or an FRC, a photo identity of family members, but some institutions still demand birth certificates,” the NADRA official explains. The reason for providing the system to UC was to help NADRA in refining their data. When an applicant comes to NADRA for a CNIC, NADRA already has their birth, marriage, or divorce registered, which makes it easy for the federal system to issue them identity cards.

For UCs, most certificates are mainly revenue-generating documents that help UCs to manage their costs. Certificates that are issued by UCs cost from Rs 1,000-2,500, depending on how much an officer is charging. NADRA charges Rs 70-100 per certificate for the services it provides to UCs. “The charges are very minimal. All UC offices have to display the prices, but usually due to corruption and to charge extra money from applicants, they remove the fixed-fee signs and charge as they see fit,” says an officer at Nazimabad UC.

The Solution

The solution to this problem is not easy with the system operating under different governments and then under several departments. Bringing it under one roof could be a laborious process but creating awareness and educating people about the importance of accurate documentation and the common mistakes that are made is not very complex. Spellings and surnames should be thoroughly checked; one document is connected to the other, and incorrect information can create problems in banking matters or the issuance of a passport. Most of the documents used to be in Urdu until computerized systems were introduced. Now CNICs contain both English and Urdu spellings