Why we all need to be part of the fight against illicit trade

The beehive activities in the war on illicit trade are a pointer to a society that needs to interrogate systems that seem to have gaping loopholes.

The Government has invested in several regulatory agencies, including Kenya Revenue Authority, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Anti-Counterfeit Agency and other smaller ones to ensure conformity.

It is worrying that all of a sudden, the lid is opening to expose Kenya and Kenyans as endangered species, courtesy of the regulators and traders who seem to be perfecting the art doing everything wrong for the love of money.

We have witnessed arrests - from Government officers to traders and clearing agents - not to mention the goods apprehended and kept, I guess, to serve as exhibits.

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Consumers have been left with their mouths open, wondering how safe the stuff on the shelves is given the suspect tests and counter-tests by the same Government agencies that stand accused.

The formation of the multi-agency organ has turned the hunter, in the name of Government agencies, into the hunted, this time by law enforcers baying for the blood of all perpetrators.

The result has been the arrests of officers who made decisions in good faith, or disquiet among officers on the ground working on cargo clearance.

Container detention

There is no doubt that this is creating anxiety, or taking a toll on the speed at which decisions are made in the process of cargo clearance.

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Most of the affected cargo includes sugar, rice, cooking oil and other edibles, which now take more than 30 days to clear, yet the Kenya Ports Authority has stuck to the four free days to clear cargo.

The same consignments attract port storage and container detention fee that have impacted the cost of doing business, causing it to skyrocket, coupled with other dynamics in the supply chain and trade logistics.

The already endangered consumer is made to pay more as the entire loss is transferred to the shelves, causing the cost of the end product to go up. Caught in the crossfire are the manufacturers of goods like industrial sugar for manufacturing companies.

The wealth of a nation is premised on continuous production, manufacturing and trade, hence the need to quickly find a solution to what is slowing down these activities that have a direct impact on Kenya's economic performance.

It is for this reason we must take responsibility for our actions in the process of trade facilitation; the importer must undertake to do what is right by sharing correct information and documents with the appointed clearing agent who in turn must undertake to declare the same information to the regulators for auditing.

The regulators must undertake to work within the trading regulations in the processing of information given to them by the agents.

Money collected

The motivation to do what is correct by all parties is the beginning of winning the war on illicit trade, all parties have a part to play in reversing the trend.

The loss of illicit trade is warranted given the fact that it only benefits a few individual in the supply chain and logistics trade players.

The targets given to Government agencies on the number of goods apprehended in the case of anti counterfeit agencies must change to the number of importers and agents sensitised and warned per month.

The target by customs departments where they are apprised on the amount of money collected as fines for offences should change to focus on importers and their agents.

They should be shortlisted and sensitised to make correct declarations for acceptable values, and companies failing to do so should be suspended.

Players' focus should shift from negotiated punishment by regulators and offenders to a concerted and joint effort by Government and associations to sensitise perpetrators with a view to blacklisting repeat offenders. This will change their attitude and help in competitive business where all are treated equally.

Positive change comes from within. Change from within demonstrated and practised becomes a behaviour. Behavioural change is what we all need to stop illicit trade. And change begins with you and me.

Mr Ojonyo is national chairman of Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association

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illicit tradeKenya Bureau of StandardsWar against counterfeits