Kenyans using the government online payment portal eCitizen are spending more for services than when they paid in cash limiting the expected benefits of the digital switch.
Each of the services under the platform attracts a Sh50 charge known as ‘convenience fee’ above the normal cost.
This is in addition to the transaction fees charged by mobile money operators (telecoms) for making the payments.
For instance, a person renewing her driving licence for one year would ordinarily have paid Sh600. But under the State’s online platform, the charge is Sh650 besides the transaction fee.
Fourty four government services have been bundled under the platform generating thousands of transactions every month. More transactions are being migrated to the online payment portal.
It is unclear who receives the proceeds from the convenience fee.
The ICT Authority acting chief executive Robert Mugo did not respond to our calls and text messages on the issue. Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich also did not respond to our queries.
ICT Principal Secretary Victor Kyallo said the ministry was only responsible for managing the eCitizen platform, adding that the setting of fees was a Treasury function.
The convenience fee was introduced through a December 23, 2014 gazette notice by Mr Rotich.
“The eCitizen.go.ke shall charge a nominal administrative fee per transaction, which shall be a pro-rated percentage of the payment made,” Mr Rotich said in the notice.
The eCitizen payment platform is linked to the systems of the various government agencies like the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), the Attorney-General’s Office and the Immigration Department.
A user who, for example, logs onto the NTSA platform to renew their licence will be redirected to make their payment through the eCitizen portal.
The portal generates an invoice for the various services and the user proceeds to pay the amount using mobile money platforms through the government’s paybill number.
Once payment is made, the system reflects the transaction and generates a receipt which the user can print.
This means that the government is increasingly spending less to hire cashiers, buy other items like receipt books, pens and stamps and hire cash transport services.
But these savings are yet to translate to reduced charges for the services.
This is in contrast to other sectors like banking which are increasingly turning to technology to reduce their human personnel cost which translates to higher profits.
The management of the ICT systems is generally taken to cost less than maintaining employees to do the same functions. Among other services that one can pay for through the system include a company name search, business name registration, application for passport, visa and temporary permit, a police clearance certificate and land search.
Some of these transactions like registration of motor vehicles generate thousands of transactions every month which translates to millions of shillings every month.
The NTSA for example has indicated it will be moving the transactions for transfer of motor vehicle ownership to the payment portal.
Each month, the Authority handles the transfer of 5,000 vehicles and 10,000 motorcycles translating to Sh750,000 from the convenience fee from this single transaction.
Others like land searches and birth and death registrations also have high traffic translating to millions of shillings generated from the convenience fee.
This amount is likely to grow to billions of shillings in the coming years as payment for all other government services are progressively migrated to the system.
Some county governments like Mombasa and Nyeri have also shifted their revenue collection to eCitizen adding to the number of transactions under the platform.