Outgoing Transport Principal Secretary Esther Koimett has denied State's involvement in the ongoing switch to the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) by importers saying cargo owners could be responding to lower freight charges.
Ms Koimett, who was moved to State Department for Broadcasting and Telecommunications in last week’s government reshuffle, said importers were free to decide their choice of transport mode for their cargo.
“Cargo owners are free to move their cargo whichever way they want,” Ms Komett said on Friday during the public hearings on sector budget proposals.
“As you may all know such a directive compelling them to use the SGR was suspended and we are happy when some traders appreciate that train is cheaper compared to other means.”
There have been widespread complaints by transporters that the government is silently implementing the rescinded directive that had ordered all cargo heading beyond Mombasa to be moved on the SGR.
Importers say costs associated with the last mile transport of cargo from the inland container terminals in Nairobi make the transport mode expensive.
Last week, police in Mombasa arrested several demonstrators who were protesting against the forced use of the Chinese-built railway line.
The weekly demonstrations have sometimes turned violent like Monday’s where security officers lob teargas canisters to disperse the protesters under the First Action Movement group who had converged at Uhuru Gardens moving towards the Mombasa port.
Civil society groups and business operators including cargo handlers who insist the directive is hurting businesses in the transport and hotel industries, have been staging protests since August last year.
Last year, police arrested 13 demonstrators including truck drivers and human rights activists during an October protest against the monopoly use of the SGR before releasing them unconditionally.
The arrests ignited a court battle that compelled police to allow truckers to demonstrate after a consent was recorded in court between the parties and adopted by Justice Eric Ogola at the High Court in Mombasa.