By Sammy Jakaa
Malaba border post has, for a long time, been characterised by endless queues of trucks extending as far as 25km along the Bungoma-Malaba highway.
The border town situated in Teso North District along the northern corridor serves as an entry point of goods to Uganda and as far as The Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan. This puts Malaba town on the map of Eastern Africa as a very important terminal.
For a long time the congestion has been blamed on poor internet infrastructure on the Ugandan side and lack of alternative parking yard for the trucks.
But The Standard has established that the endless jam in Malaba is created by corrupt dealings among CID, Customs and police officers manning the border.
According to truck drivers, the officers complicate clearing by introducing unnecessary bureaucracy to create loopholes for them to extort money. They alleged that, the CID officers deliberately cause congestion during morning hours so as to demand bribes during rush hour — mainly in the afternoon from 2pm. The officers demand a minimum of Sh2,000 from during this time. Drivers are often left with no alternative but to pay to save time.
Jump the queue
"The CID officers just create complications in the morning so that very few trucks cross into Uganda. In the afternoon, they demand at least Sh2,000 before allowing any truck to cross into Uganda. We are left with no choice but to pay or end up spending more than two days at the yard," said Mohamed Chigulu.
The officers are also said to charge a minimum of Sh1,000 for a truck to jump the queue during rush hour.
The drivers claim that they spend a minimum of three days to cross into Uganda. other times they take up to a week clearing because the police bring unnecessary obstacles to create a leeway for demand bribes. Recently, a police officer caused an accident as he tried to drive a trailer after being paid to jump the queue.
A clearing agent at Malaba Customs terms the corruption at the border as hell. He says that, when the officers are transferred to Malaba, they come with a notion that it is a place to make easy millions.
Some of the CID officers allegedly spend most their time along the border, neglecting other places. This is because the open corruption at the border gives them an easy way of accumulating wealth from desperate traders and transporters.
"Some of the CID officers in Teso District spend most of their time at the border because they know it is the only place they can make easy money. I wonder if the Customs yard is the only place they are supposed to man," said a clearing agent who sought anonymity.
Residents claim that other areas of the district have been neglected resulting into infiltration of weapons and other illegal goods into the country.
The police officers are said to ask for documents they are not supposed to for example passports, vaccination and Comesa stickers failure to which they charge Sh2,500 per requirement. Customs officers are the ones who should check these documents and not the police. Clearing agents claim that bribe taking is an open secret at the Malaba border.
"The officers have mastered what all offices in the Customs require for a vehicle to cross and so they, harass drivers by asking for them when they know very well they should not. I have been a clearing agent for more than 25 years and it has been made a routine for CID and police officers to ask for money from drivers. It is normal for an officer in Malaba to ask for a bribe," one clearing agent told us.
The trucks spend at most two days from Mombasa port to Malaba but can take a week just to get cleared. This explains why dealing with the congestion in Malaba is an almost impossible venture.
Unless corrupt officers are eliminated at this border point, traders and truck drivers will continue to suffer and to waste a lot of time that could otherwise be avoided.
Officers demand Sh2,500 per truck
Trucks headed to Sudan, Congo, Burundi and Uganda allegedly pay CID officers a minimum of Sh2,500 and Sh1,000 to uniformed police officers to cross the malaba border.
Foreign drivers handling such vehicles claim officers manning the border look for minor faults in the vehicles and use that as an avenue to harass them. They pretend to be inspecting the trucks to ascertain whether they are fit to move on Kenyan roads. When they find no fault, the officers often remove vehicle stickers such as insurance, TLB and confiscate drivers’ licenses for no apparent reason.
"The officers feign faults and complicate clearing just to create avenues for them to extract money from us. In case they don’t get any fault, they deliberately enter the trucks and remove stickers and confiscate our driving licenses. In case they remove the sticker, they demand not less than Sh5,000 from us," said Majok Deng, a Sudanese truck driver.
The Standard team witnessed officers hiking ‘lifts’ in the trucks ostensibly to ‘clear’ matters.
But the local OCPD Elphas Korir denied the allegations, saying the queues are formed by the clearing of too many trucks at Mombasa Port.
"Many trucks at the port of Mombasa were not cleared during Chritmas. As a result we have so many vehicles crossing over to the other side," said Korir in an interview with The Standard.
On the issue of bribery, he said his office had not received any complaint. "My office has not received any complaint but this is not to say I’m defending those who may be on the wrong," Korir said.
When asked why his officers board the trucks, Korir said at times they are simply hiking lifts.
"My officers at times request for lifts to sections of the queue while on duty," Korir explained.
Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) has called for investigations into claims that some truck drivers deliberately delay on the Kenyan side to evade paying parking fees on the Ugandan side.
"Some drivers are paid for the number of days they spend on the road, while Uganda charges parking fees explaining why there are no queues on their side. These are some of the issues that need to be investigated to streamline the entire system," said Betty Maina, CEO KAM.
Kenya’s Minister for Trade Chirau Mwakwere called on the business community to identify the operational problems at the border with a view of bringing them up for discussions at the EAC sectoral meetings scheduled for next month.
"It’s unfortunate that Kenya’s security agencies are being accused of corruption at the border. This ministry encourages open dialogue with the East African Business Council to thrash out the reasons for delays at Malaba," said Mwakwere.