Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has claimed that private container freight stations (CFSs) are being used to conduct illegal business at the Mombasa port.
Mr Balala, who was speaking yesterday at an international conference themed "Countering Wildlife Trafficking through Seaports", said the CFSs were abetting narcotics trade, wildlife trafficking and tax evasion.
The conference is being co-sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Development Programme, the World Wildlife Fund and anti-trafficking organisation – TRAFFIC.
The CS said that although the facilities had boosted the coastal economy by creating jobs, they were also responsible for the chaos and hostility witnessed in Mombasa after the Government proposed that cargo be freighted to Nairobi using the railway.
"The national government will not reverse policies against illegal activities that go on inside and outside the port," said Balala.
Stepped up surveillance
The CS claimed that the port authorities had stepped up surveillance at the facility, but the owners of the private warehouses had not embraced similar measures.
Balala also said that despite recent reforms spearheaded by the Government at the port, many illegal goods, including wildlife trophies, were still slipping through due to poor screening of exports.
The CS said 17 per cent of illegal ivory leaving Africa passed through the port, adding that private users of the facility hated the screening exercise, claiming it caused delays.
But Container Freight Stations Association chief executive Daniel Nzeki, who also attended the event, refuted the allegations.
“The statement by the minister is lacking in facts. He made a blanket statement but did not back it with facts,” Mr Nzeki said.
The CEO said that any criminal activity in the CFSs would be detected by State agencies who would shut down the facilities and prosecute the culprits.
“It is more risky to use facilities like CFSs for criminal activities. The best place to traffic in drugs or wildlife is at the port, which is big and busy and containers often get lost. The port, unlike the CFSs, cannot be shut down when such crimes occur,” Nzeki said.
Balala also accused leaders and activists of being behind the weekly protests that have rocked the coastal city over the move to haul cargo using the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
The protests have been in response to the near-collapse of CFSs, long-distance trucking firms and clearing and forwarding companies following the launch of rail freight services last year.
The Government accuses local leaders of promoting special interests but activists claim that the monopoly enjoyed by SGR is illegal and has crippled the private logistics sector, leading to closure of firms and job losses.
Last month, the University of Nairobi’s School of Business published the findings of a report that showed that besides the closure of several logistics companies, freight service has shrunk Mombasa’s economy by 12 per cent since last year and led to 3,100 job losses in the same period.
The report further projects that by year end, more than 8,000 jobs would have been lost in several towns on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway.
Balala said: "CFSs need to transit into the new model by accepting the need for an efficient railway system... the service is indispensable for the success of any modern port."
He, however, assured that the State would not force importers to use the SGR freight service despite the fact that there was need to pay the loan taken to build the railroad.