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Mixed reactions as electronic cargo clearance goes live

By Jackson Okoth | July 21st 2015

A rise in the use of the electronic cargo clearance system has increased the volume of Kenya’s cross-border trade, but also seen users complain of inefficiencies in the new technology.

The Treasury recently issued a directive that all cargo be processed through the National Electronic Single Window System to enhance goods’ clearance at border points.

“We now have nearly all the relevant Government agencies dealing with international trade linked to the single window platform. It is only the declaration and exemption modules in the electronic platform that are yet to go live,” said Eugene Waluvengo, the ICT director at Kenya Trade Network Agency (Kentrade), last week.

Kentrade is the State agency tasked with facilitating cross-border trade through the single window system. The platform is largely expected to boost Kenya’s position in the World Bank’s Doing Business index, which measures the costs of a country’s regulations.

“The poor ranking has been as a result of the country relying on an inefficient and cumbersome paper-based cargo clearance system, leading to slow movement of both import and export cargo,” said Mr Waluvengo.

Teething problems

The single window platform allows parties involved in trade and transport to file documents electronically for processing and approval, as well as pay fees, levies, duties and taxes on imported or exported goods.

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Last week, at a briefing held to update the country on what the Industrialisation ministry is doing to ease the costs of business, Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed said it now takes two days to clear imports at the Port of Mombasa, and one day for exports.

But cargo importers have said they are experiencing long delays as a result of hitches in the system.

“After the use of physical import declaration forms was switched off, we now have to apply for electronic clearance one week before cargo reaches Mombasa. Cargo delays are much worse than before, attracting huge freight and storage charges,” said William Ojonyo, Managing Director Keynote Logistics.

Although users have welcomed migration to the single window, some are worried about the teething problems that are leading to cargo backlogs and piled extra expenses on traders.

“While the electronic cargo clearance platform is a good system, it is still experiencing numerous problems, ranging from users who are unable to log in,” said Dennis Ombok, executive officer at Kenya Freight and Warehousing Association (Kefwa).

“Kentrade should have conducted more trials and training before a cut-off date was set.”

Rejected documents

Importers have also complained that they are being penalised and have been forced to pay Sh1,020 per document rejected.

“There was a challenge as regards processing of some trade-related documentation, which was a technical hitch in the integration between the single window system and the old Simba System. However, technical teams were able to identify the problem, which has since been resolved,” said Ann Odero, Kentrade’s head of corporate communications last week.

Kefwa’s Mombasa branch chairman, Erick Gitonga, said the new system should be run alongside the old one until it is refined. This, he added, would protect importers from incurring extra charges over delays, which are then passed on to consumers.

— Additional reporting by Bernard Sanga

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