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Cargo pile-up at ICD depot linked to tax evasion scam

Fred Aminga @faminga

Unscrupulous agents based in Dubai and China are behind the pile-up of cargo at the Nairobi Inland Container Depot (ICD) even as it emerged that this is also a ploy to evade taxes.

People Daily yesterday established that small-scale traders using these agents to consolidate their cargo in one container have been unable to claim their goods when the shipments arrive in the country.

Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials yesterday told the Parliamentary Trade Committee members when they visited the facility yesterday that they have been unable to get in touch with some agents leading to container congestion at the facility.

“Out of ignorance, small-scale traders use informal consolidators some of whom have not been vetted,” said Rosemary Mureithi, chief officer in charge of the Inland Container Depot terming the transactions both suspicious and naive, some traders are said to have engaged these consolidators who operate without known local addresses, leaving their clients’ cargo stuck at the ICD.“Some of the cargo have been here since 2017. There are about 32 containers which nobody has come forward to claim,” she said.

Francis Maina, a member of Importers and Small Traders Association of Kenya (ISTA), said some traders do not even have the Bill of Lading for their goods. “How can they claim them without the agent?” he posed.

Storage charges

Maina said there are cases of deliberate schemes by some agents bent on making a killing by delaying release of consignments leading to accumulation of storage charges. They then wait for port authorities to auction overstayed cargo, which they buy cheaply.

“They understand the system very well. They deliberately frustrate traders so that they can buy the goods during auctions. We have evidence of a matter where the DCI is investigating,” he said. KPA waits for between 30 and 60 days then auctions unclaimed cargo.

KRA and KPA officials said demurrage charges also demotivate traders from collecting goods. ISTA members took issue with “unnecessary costs” incurred during processing of cargo through agents fronted by KPA and KRA officers.

“Why are we charged an extra Sh30,000 to transport goods from ICD to a leading clearing and forwarding firm within Nairobi yet we pay Sh70,000 from Mombasa to Nairobi,” said Licensed Consolidators of Kenya Chairman, Raphael Kapai.

Kapai said unregistered agents working with rogue port officials are behind importation of undeclared cargo in a well-crafted tax evading scheme.

“These briefcase agents are the people who bring in counterfeits banking on the fact that they do not have any known addresses,” he said. Kapai said 24 consolidators have been vetted and gazetted but few are coming to claim goods.

Three-week decree

The Parliamentary committee chairman Kanini Kega who presided over the forum between MPs and traders was shocked to learn that only 10 per cent of containers had been released since President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a three-week decree for fast-tracking container clearance from the dry port.

Since the President visited ICD on May 27 and ordered all overstayed cargo belonging to small-scale traders be cleared, only 219 out of 1,233 containers have since been released.

“Consolidators with undeclared goods or those who don’t come forward to pick their containers must be delicensed,” Kapai said.

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