Making systems work for the people is not rocket science

It did not have to take President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene to have goods detained at the Inland Container Depot in Embakasi released. No. What clearly was an ill-thought out and badly executed policy nearly crippled SMEs that are the backbone of the economy.

After silent protests by traders, President Kenyatta stormed the depot that handles most goods shipped into the country through the SGR and promised to get things done.

By visiting the ICD twice in a day, President Kenyatta must have surely felt the strain the stand-off between the traders and the Kenya Bureau of Standards on one hand and the Kenya Revenue Authority was causing the economy.

Yet what the situation at the ICD mirrored was one where nothing works unless the boss is around and secondly; how out of touch bureaucrats sitting in air-conditioned offices in the city centre are.

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The deadlock epitomises the corruption that feeds off the malaise and red tape in the public service. It also amplifies the unintended consequences blind spots that are inherent in rushed decisions portend. The rule on second-hand motor vehicle spare parts cannot be looked at in isolation to the gridlock at the Embakasi port.

In downtown Nairobi, spare parts businesses have closed, businessmen and women are despairing over unpaid debts and the livelihoods of hundreds of employees and mechanics have been severely disrupted as the government hurriedly implemented a policy to phase out second-hand motor vehicle spare parts.

We cannot begrudge the government its drive for manufacturing especially under President Kenyatta’s Big 4 agenda, which is geared toward job creation; or its role of beating back environmental degradation and promoting safety by eliminating second-hand cars and counterfeits in the market that has slowly turned our borders into a dumping ground for substandard and illicit goods.

We also cannot query Kebs’ and KRA’s concerns that some of the delays have been caused by a heightened scrutiny of containers that at times, are underdeclared in a tax evasion racket. Indeed, there are real fears that some of what is shipped are counterfeit spare parts that get sold (expensively) to the public as genuine.

Additionally, as everything goes, there would be unintended consequences. It was expected that while weeding out the wrong guys, some of the good guys would suffer as well. But not so severely to the extent that honest businesses get snuffed out. In truth, these measures have hurt the critical mass Government needs for the economy to thrive.

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The second-hand ecosystem for example, is so vast that shutting one side of the equation will produce a chain reaction with adverse consequences. The transport sector from matatus, taxis and most of the personal cars on Kenyan roads are fed by the vibrant second-hand vehicle market in Japan and Europe. Any move to get rid of it should be gradual and if possible in phases.

We need to pay taxes, but it does not mean dues to Government ought to be punitively extracted from us. President Kenyatta rightfully put it, traders are opting to have their goods declared and taxed in Uganda (because its taxes are lower and clearing is done faster) and then ship it back to Kenya.

Who is losing more in this fiasco? Of course Kenya. Uganda gets the taxes, same goods are brought to Kenya, tax free and sold exorbitantly. So why can’t Kenya Revenue Authority officials think of how to beat these cheats by say; charging “reasonable” taxes and easing the clearing process? Aren’t Kenyans happy and willing to pay their tax dues?

Making systems work for the people does not require magic. It is as simple as ABC. Already, Kenyans have been hit by hard times – employment is scarce, those working must shoulder a heavy tax load and endure substandard services made worse by endemic corruption, nepotism and a bad attitude.

So it is annoying, if not spiteful, to again subject them to such scenes where the president has to appear or where one has to invoke his name for things to work in a public office. President Kenyatta’s schedule ought not to include impromptu visits to clearing sites to negotiate for release of goods held by KRA. In any case, Kenya is not a banana republic where delivery of service is on the basis of who you know high up.

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President Uhuru KenyattaInland Container DepotSMEs