eCitizen is one of the most revolutionary services by the Government of Kenya. It allows one to access many government services online through one platform.

Today, it is one of the most visited websites in Kenya.

However, there is one feature of eCitizen that is a subject of great controversy. When making payment for the various services offered on the platform, one has to add an extra Kshs 50 for convenience. This is besides the fact that the user is charged some transaction fee by the payment service provider where necessary.

Convenience fee

The argument that one is paying an extra amount for convenience is self-defeating.

What if everybody brought cash?

They would need to have several cashiers receiving money every day. They will need to pay for stationery and office space to pay these people, and at the end of the day, they will need someone to provide cash in transit solution. It is costly.

However, by using an M-PESA Paybill number, it only takes them one person or a few signatories to move the cash from the M-PESA to the bank. This is in addition to the added benefit of being able to track all payments and minimize the risk of fraud.

It seems that eCitizen users are being charged for not for their convenience, but for the government’s convenience. It is like the government’s version of ‘tuma na ya kutoa’ (include the withdrawal fee – a common phrase when sending money on M-PESA).

Banks

I have encountered a similar concept of convenience fee with Kenyan banks. Until late last year, one of the leading banks used to charge KShs 35 for balance inquiry using the USSD service. It was painful for me because I never knew all along, until one time I checked the balance twice within a span of a few minutes, and realized that there was a difference of KShs 35 in the balance.

I stopped using the service and one day when I went to the branch physically, I asked why they charge such a high fee. The response was that I was paying for convenience. Since then my account with that bank has been dormant, and although they offer quite some good services, I feel like I need an apology for me to bank with them again. They have since then scrapped off those fees but I still feel the pain.

Why these fees should not exist

Mentioning a convenience fee is easy when dealing with digital migrants who have watched the technologies evolve. But with the young people who have grown up with mobile money, it is a hard concept to sell without sounding like you are extorting money from them.

If there is a justification for extra charges for using a service, there is no need to call it a convenience fee when you are the one deploying the system for your convenience. Better give it another name, even if it means calling it a tax.

The amount should also be reasonable. Charging KShs 35 for balance inquiry is too expensive when the actual cost from the telcos is about KShs 1. This attempt to make money from every possible non-core service makes the product expensive and the result is that competitors will innovate around that.

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