A meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and representatives of disgruntled small traders last Friday at State House apparently led to his intervention for speedy release of containers of imported goods.
During the three-hour closed-door meeting, the traders presented their grievances to the President, detailing how the seizure of their goods for months had ruined their businesses.
It emerged that the delays to clear the goods was because of, in part, failure to comply with stringent regulations effected without their knowledge, deceitful schemes by some major importers and in some cases extortion by rogue officials.
Sources said present at the meeting were only a few of the president’s aides apparently to allow the traders to speak freely about their woes at the hands of government officials.
Following the meeting, the President reportedly assured them of quick intervention, which saw him visit the Inland Container Depot (ICD) at Embakasi on Sunday and again yesterday where he decreed that all seized containers be released within the next three weeks.
State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena yesterday confirmed last Friday’s meeting at State House.
“Yes there was a meeting between the President and the representatives of small traders. It was a closed-door meeting,” said Kanze without divulging further details.
Sources say that there were no other top Government official in the meeting as the President wanted the traders to air their grievances freely in the meeting that took place between 3pm and 6pm.
The traders, majority of whom operate in downtown Nairobi, had unsuccessfully tried to meet the President numerous times because some of their goods had been held at the ICD since 2017.
Close to 1,000 containers are held at the depot.
The delay in their clearance was largely due to insufficient paperwork, including cargo that is destined for the local market that was declared as export goods by deceitful importers in attempts to evade paying requisite taxes.
The traders have suffered with some opting to shut businesses, while some are struggling to service loans borrowed to ship cargo.
They blame recently introduced Government policies such as the one banning consolidation of goods which was introduced due to the ongoing war on counterfeits.
Importers and Small Traders Association Chairman Samuel Karanja yesterday revealed that the President showed goodwill and that was the reason he made an impromptu visit to the ICD to assess the gravity of the matter. “The President wanted to hear the root-cause of our woes independently in addition to what his top government officials had briefed him. That is why he even went to the ICD to verify himself,” said Karanja.
The chairman further divulged that the traders had a follow-up meeting with the President on Monday where it was agreed that among other things, all goods that have met the right standards and are being held would be released in the next three weeks.
“We are not fighting the Government. There is goodwill on both sides to come up with an amicable solution for the issues that started in 2017,” Karanja added.
The meetings also agreed on a working plan including the formation of a task force drawn from Government and small traders to implement the resolutions from the meeting between the two parties.
The importers and small traders are today expected to issue a statement on the deliberations and promises by President Kenyatta.
Some of the grievances that they raised during the meeting included the request for a 100 per cent waiver on demurrages, a review of the place of issuance of the Certificate of Conformity and representation of traders in key policy-making bodies that affect their trade.
It was not clear how many containers were being held. Karanja said they were doing tabulations to determine the exact number and present it to the President.
Traders who spoke to The Standard said that some of them had started receiving phone calls from their clearing agents to collect their goods. “Our only challenge is that the goods have incurred high storage charges since they have been there for long,” said Kiarie Mburu, a trader at Nyamakima.
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