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Why e-Citizen is causing jitters among education stakeholders

Students at the University of Nairobi have rejected payments for meals purchased in the school kitchen through the e-Citizen, adding to the controversy on the digital platform.

University of Nairobi Students Association (UNSA) Secretary General Castro Jasper said the system which has already been rolled out is facing many challenges which must be sorted before it is adopted.

“There have been concerns from the students about the transaction costs incurred, one might be tempted to think that the transaction costs are low, usually in the margins of between Sh5 to 50 or more on ordinary purchases. This to an ordinary student is a lot of money spent in transactions calculated over a week, or a month, or a semester,” he said.

He said opposition to the new payment model, according to the students, roots from transaction costs.

“It is in our view, as the student leadership, that if the government insists on this payment modality, then let the transaction costs be scrapped for university students so that no extra expense is incurred by the students in the face of the already stinging IMF economy,’’ Jasper said.

He said there are mixed feelings among students regarding the digital payment plan which he said should be addressed and also questioned the haste of implementation.

“The university communicated to the students on January 31 through a notice directing that payments for meals be directed through the e-citizen Platform following the government’s directive. Payment details for 12 catering units across the University campuses were shared and the payment system is already getting rolled out,” Jasper said.

In a notice to all students and staff on Tuesday, the university said that purchases made at the university kitchens will be done through the e-Citizen platform; further giving instructions and processes on how to make the payments.

University of Nairobi director of corporate communication, John Orindi, told Saturday Standard that students who wish to continue paying using cash will not be restricted.

However, he said those opting for cashless payment will have to onboard the e-citizen platform.

The government insists that the move to digitise all payments on the platform will increase revenue collection, minimise the cost of collection and enhance service delivery.

However, the decision has not been received well by the students even as questions emerged whether the plan to pay fees under the e-Citizen platform will boost service delivery.

Dr Malomba Wekesa, University and Academic Staff Union secretary (UASU) University of Nairobi chapter termed the change in the system as unnecessary noting the already existing pay model was working.

He further said the directive only affects students as staff are not using the system to pay for their meals.

“I have not talked to the students to hear what they have to say about the new pay model but when something is not a problem you do not start fixing it. That in itself is creating a problem,” Wekesa said on Friday.

The UoN directive came after a similar order by the Ministry of Education asking fees for learners in national schools be paid through the e-Citizen platform. In a circular dated January 31, and signed by Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang directed the institution heads to share school bank account details with the office of the State Department’s Director General by February 6.

This, the PS said, is part of the government’s efforts to onboard all government services onto the e-Citizen platform to enhance service delivery.

But the government’s plan suffered a setback on February 7 after a high court ruling that suspended the directive by the Ministry of Education.

“An interim conservatory order is hereby issued suspending the Circular or letter by the Principal Secretary (Belio Kipsang), Ministry of Education dated January 31, 2024, requiring parents/guardians and or students to pay fees and or any other levies for all government learning institutions through e-citizen,” court order reads.

Although the directive by the ministry suffered a setback, President William Ruto on Wednesday reaffirmed that payment of school fees through e-Citizen will proceed while speaking in Japan.

In secondary schools, stakeholders question whether the payment model will help curb the recurring problem of extra and illegal fees.

Dr Emmanuel Manyasa, an education researcher and executive director Usawa Agenda indicated that the order was opaque and vague on how it would improve service delivery.

Manyasa said it is unclear if the directive effectively means parents will not be required to top up any other monies.

This was supported by Tunza Mtoto coalition national coordinator Janet Muthoni Ouko who disputed the effectiveness of the directive noting that public secondary schools have been using different accounts for illegal fees. “What will stop school heads of going ahead to pay extra fees to accounts that are not linked to the eCitizen, this has long been the practice,” Ouko posed.

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