A furious President Uhuru Kenyatta spent three hours on Sunday afternoon at a container depot in Nairobi to learn firsthand the tribulations shared by small importers.
He showed up unannounced and in a nondescript vehicle, on an inspection tour to understand why some 700 containers have been detained for up to two years.
It would set off a chain of events involving high-level meetings among senior stakeholders in the importing business.
And at 1.40 pm yesterday, he was back again at the Inland Container Depot – this time to get answers from his juniors including CS Fred Matiang’i and his Trade counterpart Peter Munya.
They had been meeting since dawn Monday following orders by the President to figure out how the detained cargo would be released as soon as possible.
By the time he was addressing the traders after leaving the meeting, it was clear that a way forward had been found, giving hope to the distressed importers.
“I will be back here after three weeks to check and ensure that the work has been done,” Mr Kenyatta said.
He directed the responsible agencies to speed up the cargo clearance so that “the people can go on with their businesses”.
And just like that, the importers had scored a major win after their cries reached the President last week, following a report by The Standard that illustrated their suffering. In the days that followed, the traders held demonstrations and shouted down Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko over the detained cargo.
President Kenyatta picked the cue and called for a meeting with the traders last Friday, promising to personally ensure that their pleas were addressed.
Ben Mutahi, the chairman of the small importers lobby in Nairobi, was among the traders that petitioned the President.
After yesterday’s meeting, he told The Standard that he was satisfied with Kenyatta’s promise which should alleviate the suffering of the people he represents.
“He (President) has promised a waiver on storage costs which have piled owing to delays in getting the cargo cleared,” Mutahi said.
Daily storage costs which are paid to the Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Revenue Authority and the owners of the containers cumulatively total Sh15,000.
Considering that some of the containers have been detained for over 300 days, the storage costs alone could easily have exceeded the value of the consignment. In the specific case, the total storage costs work out to Sh4.5 million.
Noor Abdulrashid, a clearing agent, said one of his client’s cargo has been held for over three months because a single item in the container does not appear on the documents submitted prior to arrival.
“There is a batch of clothes that had not been inspected which has led to the detention of the whole containers with goods worth Sh15 million,” Noor said.
A directive issued on April 23 by the KRA required staff to hold the entire consignment should it be found that any of the items contained had not been inspected from the country of origin.
However, the directive took effect immediately, disregarding whether the goods were already in the country or were in the high seas.
Further, a pre-shipment inspection firm contracted by Kenya Bureau of Standards in China was blacklisted on October 1, 2018. Certificates issued by the banned firm were effectively null even though some consignment it had inspected were already in shipment.
That is how the hundreds of traders have found themselves on the wrong side of the regulations.
Besides the 700 containers that have been earmarked for rapid clearing, another 300 may be having the same issues as they are just arriving. But what is now clear is that some are held at no fault of the owners.
Mr Kenyatta told officials from the KRA, Kebs and KPA to immediately work on the release of goods, some having been detained since 2017, but work on vetting of the consolidators.
Implications of the continued cargo seizure has been huge, specifically for the traders who have suffered huge losses owing to stock outs and the huge storage costs. In worse cases, some traders have closed shop.
For Mr Kenyatta, the implications of the delays has turned into a hot political subject especially in his Central Kenya backyard with many feeling disenfranchised by the crackdown on fake and substandard goods, which has exposed even the honest traders.
That would explain why he spent four hours of his Sunday afternoon in an impromptu inspection of the ICD to get a first-hand feel of the implications of new directives of various agencies of his administration.
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