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Smugglers have field day at borders

By | Nov 11th 2009 | 4 min read
By | November 11th 2009

by Kepher Otieno

Kenya and Tanzania could be losing millions of shillings in revenue following increase of smuggling of on some common border points. Investigation by CCI has established that smuggling of goods, especially counterfeits, to the countries through the porous borders is a common engagement of traders in most border points.

As a result, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) lose millions of shillings every year due to tax evasion.

CCI established that Isebania border point in Kenya and Sirare in Tanzania had of late become a haven for smuggling.

Peter Ndisi (left) and Peter Ndung’u from Kenya Bureau of Standards verify products in Kisumu to wad off trade in counterfeits.

Photo Titus Munala/ Standard

Goods are sneaked in through illegal entry points near the towns popularly known by the locals as ‘panya routes’.

"Some customers are duped into buying cheap counterfeit goods. Weeks later they cry after realising they fell prey to the scheme," says John Otieno, a trader at the border. Cereal business is also very lucrative at the borders following the Kenya Government’s waiver of duty on cereal imports. Most traders are taking advantage of the waiver to sneak in other commodities in the name of cereals.

When CCI team visited the area, we found hundreds of bags of finger millet, rice, maize and beans on transit to Kenyan from Tanzania.

Tax evasion

The duty waiver was to end in December but the Government pushed it to June next year.

Tanzania acting principal revenue officer Gerald Pangani told CCI that maize exports from the country had been banned.

"We are not allowing maize exports from Tanzania. But it is true some traders are evading the official entry and exit points to smuggle maize to Kenya using bicycles and donkey carts," Pangani said.

He disclosed that Tanzania is losing Sh2.5 million per month as a result of the tax evasion and sneaking of goods at illegal entry points.

Pangani revealed that TRA and police were arresting at least four suspects daily. The suspects are fined 50 percent of the total value of their goods and released, he said. The trade at the borders include sale of counterfeit vehicle tyres.

"There are some people who trade in counterfeit tyres and only alter brand names to sell them faster," he disclosed.

Other items commonly smuggled from Kenya to Tanzania duty free include cement and household goods. Pangani said they were making efforts to nab suspects.

Some traders said it was meaningless to sit back and watch Kenyans die of hunger yet across the border, there was plenty of food and products at affordable rates.

A trader at Isebania who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, disclosed that TRA was strict but the Kenyan authorities were reluctant to arrest them because of the current waiver on imports.

"We are only being charged local rates by the municipal council. But the products have to be certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards before being allowed in the market," he claimed.

Isebania Officer Commanding Station (OCS) Kaburu Manyara said police were not blocking Kenyan traders bringing in cereals.

"We have not outlawed imports of cereals, so why deny the people a chance to feed their people. Honestly, we have given them free room," he said. KRA acting revenue officer Mr Augustine Were disclosed that traders were only charged two percent value of maize weighed but not duty.

The imports sanction is part of the Government’s emergency measures to save Kenyans from starvation. But Kenyan police denied that illegal trade was thriving. Kuria Deputy OCPD James Mwenje claimed that they had sealed off all the major routes used by smugglers.

Duty free market

"We have erected police posts in most common areas where the traders use to sneak the goods," he said.

Shops on the Kenyan side of the border stock an array of Tanzania branded products. The products are low priced because they are sneaked across the border duty free. Hawkers in these towns to are minting a lot of money selling such products. They include mobile phones, shoes, cooking fat, clothes, cigarettes, beverages, alcoholic products, sugar, bread, soaps, vacuum flasks and detergents. Others are jewellery, diamond, gold and Tanzanite.

Contraband trade

Tanzanite is mined in Arusha. It is mainly used for making jewellery and vacuum flasks.

Mwenje told CCI that though they had sealed off major panya routes. He said the amount of goods sneaked into Kenya was not in large scale.

"We have blocked areas where they used to sneak in goods with vehicles," Mwenje explained.

CCI established that several traders use bicycles and handcart vendors to smuggle the goods. The police boss, however, promised to investigate.

Western Kenya region KRA principal immigration officer Kuria Wagachira claimed that they had stepped up the fight against smuggling. He explained that KRA had impounded and destroyed contraband goods worth millions of shillings smuggled in the country in the last one-year in Nyanza.

He said some of the goods were netted in Isebania, Kehancha, and Kisumu. Wagachira noted that counterfeiting thrives because of demand from Tanzania and Kenya’s cash-strapped shoppers seeking for low-priced products.

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