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Shipping & Logistics

Clearing firms now fault kicking out of inspection agents from Mombasa port

Container wagons
Container wagons waiting to be ferried to Nairobi ICD from the Port of Mombasa. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Stakeholders in the clearing and forwarding sector now want a directive that ordered over 20 agencies out of Mombasa port reviewed, saying it has failed to meet its objective.

President Uhuru Kenyatta in June last year directed that the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Railways and Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) are the only agencies mandated to operate at the port, kicking 23 others out of the facility.

Those whose operations were outlawed at the port and the Nairobi Inland Container Depot (NICD) include the Kenya Health Inspectorate (Kephis), Radiation Board and Anti Counterfeit Agency.

The move was aimed at improving efficiency in clearance of goods at the port, saving importers costly demurrages. However, questions have been raised over the effectiveness of the directive with some agencies said to be creeping back to the facility.

They said before the agencies were introduced at the regional port 20 years ago, there was rampant theft of cargo and infiltration of contraband and counterfeit goods. They argued that services of the National Intelligence Service, the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, Kephis and ACA are crucial and should not be kicked out of the port.

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The Car Importers Association of Kenya (CIAK) chairman Peter Otieno said after the agencies were removed from the port, it has become difficult to control substandard goods which he said are finding their way into the market.

“What should be clear is that it is not the number of agencies operating at the port that cause the delays. If all checks are done under one roof, it would improve service delivery,” Mr Otieno said.

The agencies, he noted, were introduced at the facility around 2000 when it was discovered there were loopholes in clearing of goods.

“The challenge is that if delays are caused by the agencies it is the importer who shoulders the responsibility in the penalties they pay as storage charges. There should be a system where if it is KRA that delays release of a document then officers there should be held to account, otherwise inefficiency will be the order of the day,” he told Shipping&Logistics.

Daniel Nzeki, Container Freight Station Association of Kenya (CFSA) executive officer, said operations of the agencies should be shifted to the CFSs, which have all the facilities required for clearing and cargo inspection.

“The CFSs are customs areas with all the facilities and should be ideal for their operations,” Mr Nzeki said.

However, William Ojonyo, Keynote Logistics managing director, said Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should be introduced, where each agency is allocated time within which to complete a task, failure to which they are penalised.

Mr Ojonyo, who is the immediate former Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa) chairman said importers need to know who would be responsible for the delays and how surcharges would be factored in the agreements.

“The level of service must be determined so that each of the agencies involved in clearing should be responsible for the delays. The issue we should be addressing is not the number of agencies operating at the port but how long each of them takes to pass documents or perform their duties,” he noted.

The concerns come even as performance indicators released by the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) show there are still delays in movement of goods. The indicators measure performance of the port and the Northern Corridor which links land-locked countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo with the Mombasa port. The NCTTCA Performance Dashboard shows that cargo dwell time at the port (the average time between landing and exit of container from the port), increased to 56.96 hours between January 22 and 28, up from 51.71 hours the previous week.

At the One Stop Centre where release documents are processed, average time between passing of customs entry registration and issuance of release order increased to 56.67 hours between January 22 and 28 up from 40.68 hours the previous week.

Traffic at the Mariakani weighbridge dropped from 4,522 trucks between January 15 and 21 to 4,334 trucks between January 22 and 28.

One of the systems that is expected to improve performance by cargo clearing agencies is the Kenya TradeNet System operated by the Kenya Trade Network Agency (KenTrade)

KenTrade Chief Executive Officer Amos Wangora said the system has a risk management module that helps government agencies intelligently intervene on cargo according to the risks they pose.

“KenTrade is working to bring on board all the government agencies to use this approach to cargo clearance and so far 18 government agencies are utilising it. We are building risk management capacity of government agencies to enable them embrace intelligence-based cargo intervention. This will result in reduced interventions at the ports and borders, enhancing speed of cargo clearance,” Mr Wangora told Shipping & Logistics in an email communication.

However, Mr Wangora said the challenge has been slow adoption of the Single Window System by the agencies.

“Some government agencies did not have the tools required such as computers and the internet to access the Single Window System, while others have staffing constraints. There have also been process and legal challenges leading to duplication among the government agencies,” he added.

A recent stud by the World Bank study and International Finance Corporation (IFC) indicated that the Single Window System saves the Kenyan economy approximately Sh2.5 billion annually. The system has also enhanced transparency, improved revenue collection and cut cost and time in the cargo clearance process and cited as one of the major contributors to Kenya's improved World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index rating.

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