The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) has, without doubt, touched a raw nerve with its directive banning importation of several classes of used car parts.
The most distressing aspect of the ban is that many of these parts, such as tyres, tie-rod-ends, bearings, clutch plates, and brake pads, just to name a few, are the most commonly bought and those in high demand locally.
That Kebs has chosen to communicate the ban straight to pre-shipment inspectors implies that hundreds of local importers face the shock of having their cargo blocked in source countries after incurring the costs of purchasing the items, yet Kebs has not taken due care to inform them in advance and offer them a grace period.
As a rule, complying with new laws and regulations need not be made unnecessarily painful. Again, change of policy should not come overnight; it should be a gradual process that takes cognizance of all the sensibilities that a shift in policy implies.
It goes without saying that the items whose imports has been banned dominate spare part shops across the country. By inference, that means the State needs to move with caution when changing rules of a trade that already supports a whole network of small businesses, from local dealers to their employees, not to mention other players in distribution chain that also includes garages.
Moreover, the consumer, who is mostly driving a second-hand vehicle, should gradually be prepared for the reality of having to buy spare parts at disproportionally higher prices henceforth. If this is not done, there is a risk that the theft of car parts, a menace that had come under control in recent years, will rear its ugly head again, bringing back the bad old days when parts used to be yanked off moving cars.
Granted, the industrialisation ministry’s National Automotive Policy is well intended and it is evident that if done right, it could boost creation of high-quality manufacturing jobs by restricting the importation of used cars and parts.
But the State risks destroying available jobs by the speed at which Kebs wants to implement the directive. Hundreds of thousands of motorists currently rely on used spares, which are relatively cheaper and of better quality than new imports that mainly come from China, Taiwan, India and Indonesia.
In any case, how does banning second hand parts help in the creation of jobs locally if traders are still free to import new spare parts? The government must address the perception that the ban is simply creating a market for branded new imports.