The 7-hour itch: Diary of a Kenyan eCitizen
As part of Making All Voices Count’s new research series, When Does the State Listen?, Dr. Nyambura Salome has been looking at whether Kenya’s new e-government platforms have increased citizen engagement with the state.
Here she talks about her own experience using the government new iTax platform that aims to provide a easy, accessible way for Kenyans to connect with their government's tax system.
“Several times in several days and from several locations within Nairobi, I tried to log on to the iTax platform in vain. Each time I tried my screen would scream, “The site cannot open!”
Finally I gave up and admitted defeat: I, an IT-savvy scholar, am going to ask a nice steward to help me fill in my tax returns in a Huduma centre (state-run centres offering support with Kenya’s new e-government services).
Next Thursday morning I walk into a Huduma Centre. There is a long security check and a nice lady peeps into my handbag; she smiles when she sees my safely hidden laptop. Is she laughing at me, wondering why I can’t simply use it and be one less from the queue? I am given a ticket with the number 250.
It’s around 10:00, so the magnitude of this number does not register in my mind.
Everywhere there is activity; there are queues facing all directions and you’d confuse it with a market place, were it not for the official looking Huduma stewards walking around to ensure some order. I get to the queue, which snakes into another queue of seated clients. I count the people queuing. Somehow now the number on my ticket begins to make sense… there are 120 people ahead of me! My eyes quickly turn to the Kenya Revenue Office (KRA) counter: there are 4 staff members with 4 computers… I begin praying that the network will be fast and I will be out of here before lunch.
It’s 13:00 now and I’m two places to getting a seat.
It has been a gruelling three hours of chameleon pace moving. The fatigue has made me forget that I am a tech-savvy university professor; now I am just another Kenyan citizen, tired, hungry and patient. I have even made friends: the lady in front of me is here to submit the returns for her husband, a banker who can’t access the site at home or work. He gets to work before Hudumas open and leaves when they are closed. So she is here and left their 6 months old baby hoping it would be a quick service.
It is 15:00. I am still in the queue.
An officer comes and announces that some of us can move to another office in City Square since there are not as many people there, as here. Nobody moves, we simply stare at her, and then shift our eyes to the three ladies slowly tapping on their computers the tax returns details. I wonder, should she not take a computer and seat to work, so that she can reduce this human traffic?
17:00, I am six people to the counter when an officer comes and informs those without tickets to leave since it is now time and they could only serve 250 clients.
Finally, it’s my turn. Once seated the lady takes my ticket – I realize it’s number 250 – was this the last ticket as the officer has said? But, the seats are all full, there are about 50 people still waiting to be served! The lady asks if I have updated my account details. How, I ask her, the systems could not even open. She refers me to a ‘cyber’ within the centre. I ask what will happen when I come back, I’m afraid to start that queue again. She tells me to come to her desk once through. I am angry. It’s 17:38; instead of telling us to go to other centres, why didn’t they advise us to update the accounts before we got to the counters?!
I wade through to the cyber kiosk and key in my details very fast, and click on save…the system pauses for a minute and says there’s a network problem, it could not save. I am now on the edge, how is this possible?! I give up and request a young official to assist me. He is jolly and quick. He keys in my detail and when he is about to save again it hangs. So he prints the document and says this will be okay. He asks me for Ksh100. “What?! Why didn’t you inform me before printing? And how is printing one paper Ksh100?” I ask him, had I done it myself would I have paid that amount. He is quiet. I ask him where to pay and he shows me the counter. I give the girl at the counter Ksh10. I expect her to ask about the Ksh100, she doesn’t, so I leave.
Back to the counters, and there are four of us holding printouts. An officer comes and tells us to sit at the back. We query how can we start the queue again. She says one of the ladies will serve us before serving the other people. We move to the back, we wait for another 30 minutes, until I inquire what is happening. The lady apologises, she forgot about us. Finally, it’s my turn again. The lady keys in my details and informs me that I have a deficit - my employer did not remit what was required. She shows me the amounts on my P9 form. I ask her who will now pay for it, and she smiles. Of course, it will be me.
This is it: after queuing for over seven hours, this is some news. So what happens now, I ask her. She informs me that KRA will email me an e-ticket to go and pay in the bank.
It is 18:00.
I leave the counter and head towards the door, a lot in my mind. What day this was! What kind of service was this? What was that Ksh100? What is this deficit?... It’s dark now. The streets are full of people in haste to catch the bus home. I hurry to catch my bus; if only to release the tensions and questions.”
About the authorNyambura Salome is lecturer at the Department of Educational Foundations, Kenyatta University
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