Import trade hit as State cuts down port operations
By Benard Sanga | April 18th 2020
With a rise in coronavirus cases, Mombasa has emerged as one of the areas most hit by the pandemic.
Many cases have been reported from employees of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Container Freight Station (CFS). This has slowed down operations, at the usually busy port, as government agencies and private companies battle to curb spread of Covid-19.
The port serves six countries in the East and Central Africa and some of the cargo is cleared at privately owned CFS, which also has staff working at the premises, seconded by State agencies.
KPA acting Managing Director Rashid Salim said seven of their employees tested positive while many, who came into contact with them, have been placed under quarantine.
The government early in the week dispatched over 1,000 kits for the mandatory testing for employees at the port. These kits are still not enough for a facility that has close to 7000 workers. It was not clear whether hundreds of employees from other State agencies and private firms that operate from the CFSs will be subjected to testing.
In the meantime, operations are slowing down. Already, the National Transport Safety Authority NTSA has withdrawn its workforce from CFSs saying it is not safe. Others have scaled down their operations at the port with KPA’s administration departments virtually empty.
NTSA Director General George Njao said they have ceased the issuance of the motor vehicle number plates at the CFSs because of “inherent risks” posed by employees of KPA and KRA.
“A number of employees from KPA and KRA have been put under quarantine as a result of having interacted with those who died,” said Mr Njao in a letter dated April 8 to Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.
KRA has also placed 10 employees on quarantine after coming into contact with foreigners, who tested positive.
“In order to forestall any possible risks to our employees, the authority proposes to immediately cease provision of services at the CFSs,” Njao said.
However, he said, KRA will be requested to authorise release of duly-registered motor vehicles from the CFS pending issuance of number plates.
“These vehicles will however, be parked at the owner’s yard or parking. Issuance of physical plates will be done at a later date,” he said, and added that the move will save importers from paying penalties.
NTSA, however, is not the first State agency to take stringent safety measures given that KRA and even KPA have issued similar regulations to curb the spread of the virus.
Peter Otieno, the Car Importers Association of Kenya (CIAK) chairman said on average, NTSA registers 10,000 imported cars a month.
“We absolutely welcome the move by NTSA. The business has been hit by cancellation of orders, suspension of ships and stringent clearance procedures to reduce human contact,” said Otieno.
KPA employee Ms Ursula Bulum was the first victim of Covid-19 while the second one was Mr James Onyango who died in Siaya. On March 7, Operations Manager at Mitchell Cotts CFS Mark Mbua succumbed to Covid-19.
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