Clearing agents and freight forwarders are betting on a proposed law to enhance their operations through entrenching professionalism in their business.
The Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa) said the Kenya Customs Agents and Freight Forwarders Management Bill will bring important changes in the sector thanks to a new set of rules and regulations embedded in the new law.
Kifwa chairman Roy Mwanthi said the association members are currently deliberating on the Bill and will soon have a stakeholders’ engagement on the same.
“Currently, we are discussing the Bill as Kifwa before we take it for a public input. Then we shall get an Act of Parliament which shall recognise clearing fraternity as a profession,” said Mr Mwanthi.
“The Bill proposes guidelines on the charges we are supposed to levy, how to conduct ourselves in terms of discipline, integrity and membership, suspension among other directives. Just like the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), this is a model Bill for customs agents and freight forwarders.”
The association represents over 1,000 clearing firms in Kenya.
He said they will also engage players such as the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), the Treasury, Kenya Bureau Standard (Kebs), importers and exporters for their input.
“We will need their views before we go to the MPs caucus both in Nairobi and Mombasa and thereafter take it to the assembly committee on transport after collecting all the views from Kenyans and players,” he said.
Kifwa has drafted the Bill in conjunction the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Association (FEAFFA).
“Currently, we have been operating through East Africa Customs Management Act, which will remain but there will now be an Act of Parliament recognising customs agents and freight forwarders as a profession, just like the lawyers operate,” he said
The proposed law, Mr Mwanthi said will give guidelines on how one will be admitted to the profession.
Under the Bill, one will have to undergo training before being admitted as a profesional clearing agent.
“New comers will have to undergo training for one to be certified to be a freight forwarder or recognised certified customs agent,” Mr Mwanthi said, adding that those with more than 30 years of experience in the sector will however be admitted without having to undergo training.
The new law, he says, establishes a board that will vet, approve, review, revoke and suspend membership in the industry.
“The same way lawyers are treated once they misbehave, is the same this board will be doing. The board shall have a panel that comprise several representatives from several government agencies including the Attorney-General (AG) representative, transport, Treasury and freight forwarders,” said the chairman.
Under the new law, a certificate from the East Africa Freight, known as Forwarding Practicing Certificate administered by the Kenya School of Revenue Administration (KESRA), will be the key document for joining the industry.
“Those who will undergo the training will be certified and registered as practitioners and they all will be regulated by that law. There is going to be a serious vetting,” the chairman said.
“You don’t just wake up and be a freight forwarder.”
He said the proposals’ aim is not to lock out new entrants, but to regulate and professionalise the sector.
“So long as you are Kenyan and you meet the requisite qualifications, then you will be eligible. But you have to undergo vetting that will check your qualification and experience before you are allowed to operate,” he said.
Each of the East Africa Communities member states will develop similar laws under the guidance of the region’s model Bill.
“We have a model Bill for East Africa but it has to be domesticated in each country. Rwanda is already doing it and the rest will follow,” he said.
FEAFFA programme manager Elias Baluku called for cooperation between the government and Kifwa to ensure the success of the new law.
“We hope this co-operation will go a long way in achieving the sectors’ dreams t,” said Mr Baluku.
FEAFFA, with support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), developed a regional model Bill known as The Model Customs Agents and Freight Forwarders Management Bill 2017.
According to FEAFFA, the model Bill is a template aimed at guiding the EAC countries in developing national customs agents and freight forwarders laws in their respective countries.
The Bill covers aspects considered critical by industry stakeholders in ensuring a genuinely professional customs agents and freight forwarders.
Key among these areas covered are detailed establishment of a regulatory board, technical qualification and continuous professional development, certification and registration, obligations and conduct of registered customs agents and freight forwarders. Others are the code of conduct, offences and penalties, disciplinary proceedings, appeals, mutual recognition agreements and financial provisions.