Mobarak is one among multiskilled men.
Officially, he is a mosquito control employee at the Dhaka North City Corporation Mirpur-2 zonal office. But unofficially, he is the man who can get you a birth certificate in just one day, something which usually takes a few months. He not only can do it for Mirpur-2 residents but also for residents of adjacent Mirpur-10.
Mobarak's service costs Tk800, but the amount of the bribe goes up if the client prefers a home delivery.
"We are not forcing you to pay us. Rather our service is for those who want to have it smoothly by avoiding hassles at 4-5 tables," said the birth certificate broker who, as he said, belongs to a syndicate comprising city corporation cleaning staff and mosquito control workers.
"At the end of the day, we do not have much left since Tk500 for each birth certificate goes to officers, Tk100 for online form fill-in and Tk50-100 as the official fee," the man said, giving a breakdown of the bribe money, and hinting at the involvement of city corporation officials in the syndicate.
Encircled by 8-10 of his clients at the zonal office, the broker did not name the high officials as people were pressing him for delivery of the birth certificates they needed.
In the meantime, people queued up inside the office as an official verified the birth certificate applications.
Sanjida Khanam, one of the birth certificate seekers in the queue, said she needed a correction to be made on her paper. She said the birth registration of her daughter, a must for Covid vaccine registration of the kid, required her (Sanjida's) birth certificate.
"People do not come here unless they are very unfortunate," Sanjida vented her anger.
Unlike Sanjida, Mirpur resident Kulsum Begum got the birth certificates with absolute ease for all three members of her family. "The broker took Tk800 for each of the certificates and the papers were delivered to my home within a week," Kulsum said.
On visits to several zonal offices of the two Dhaka city corporations in the last couple of days parents were seen scrambling for birth registration papers as the government in early November rolled out the child vaccination programme. The guardians said digital birth registration has been taking from 10 days to a couple of months since birth certificates are also a must for school enrolment.
After applying online, Mariam Begum had been visiting Dhaka North Mirpur-2 zonal office since 8 October for the certificates. But she was yet to get her daughter's birth registration paper.
Nepal Debnath, a birth certificate seeker for his son, said he had applied online and filled in the form carefully. But the hard copy of the certificate came out with too many errors.
"I failed to have the mistakes corrected even after spending the last two days at the Dhaka South City Corporation office. I do not know what to do as the deadline for my son's school enrolment is about to be over," he told TBS.
Golam Rabbani and his wife got their certificates 15 days after the online application had been made. But the couple found a number of Bangla spelling mistakes in the documents.
"How will general people benefit from the service if the digital service is so disappointing?" Golam Rabbani said in frustration. He was afraid he would be in "unspeakable misery" while trying to have the corrections made in the documents.
"Birth certificates of the parents are just an illogical requirement for kids' school enrolment and vaccination. The authorities could have done it with our national identity [NID] cards," said Dhaka South resident Khwaja Mohammad Rasel.
On birth certificate delays, city corporation officials said they have been struggling with a manpower crisis as new areas have been added to both Dhaka North and South.
"Our work pressure has tripled in the past 15 days. We are issuing more than 300 birth certificates a day – previously, it was around 80. But we are delivering around 95% of birth certificates against the applications we are receiving daily," Dr Mahmuda Ali, assistant health officer (zone-2) of Dhaka North, told TBS.
She said there have been technical issues with the server too. But the official denied that any bribes were involved in the process.
However, Brig Gen Md Zobaidur Rahman, chief health officer at Dhaka North City Corporation, said some unscrupulous city corporation staff are getting involved in the offence despite repeated warnings of stern official action.
"We will take action on specific bribe complaints. I request people to avail birth certificates on their own," he added.
Merina Nazneen, zonal executive officer of Dhaka South, said server issues may cause slight delays in getting the certificates, but the corporation now does not have any application pending.
"Staff with any bribe allegations against them have been instructed to maintain a distance from the birth registration office. Besides, actions are being taken against corrupt employees and people who offer bribes," she added.