Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has termed the Mombasa port and specifically container freight stations (CFSs) conduits of illegal trade, including drugs and wildlife trafficking.
Mr Balala told the Port Stakeholders Workshop on Countering Wildlife Trafficking Through Sea Ports, held at the Voyager Beach Resort in Mombasa yesterday, that the port was a conduit of drugs and wildlife trophies.
The government seized 17 containers laden with ivory and 34 stocked with rosewood in the recent past.
“On concerns of illegal trade, drug trafficking and non-taxing of products that enter the market, you’ve recently heard a lot of hue and cry on the standard gauge railway. But the issue is not the SGR. The government wants to be firm on all goods and products that enter and exit the country and particularly when they go via CFSs,” he said.
Mr Balala said the government can use its infrastructure to screen goods at the Mombasa port, but when they are stored in CFSs, they become conduits of illegal trade.
“That is where owners of goods who do not pay taxes and all the illegal trade go. This is the raw nerve we are touching. We are not going to reverse our policies against illegalities that take place in and outside the port,” the CS said.
He said CFSs were established as temporary stopovers.
“Any port in the world should take minimum time to transit goods via that facility. But we have created so much chaos at the port that we have become inefficient. We hoard and detain goods so that CFSs make money, thereby impacting the price of goods, in between peddling drugs, illegal wildlife and avoiding taxes,” he said.
But Container Freight Stations Association of Kenya CEO Daniel Nzeki refuted the claims.
“No CFS owner can allow their facility to be used as a conduit for the black market and other illegal activities. There are harsh penalties,” he said.
Mr Balala said despite the government’s heavy investment in its seaports, corruption still thrives.
“I have engaged the management of the port. The problem is not the government, we have put structures in place. The problem is with the private sector. They think we are too rigid.
“Requirements for screening delay their goods and services to their clients, this is where all the illegality happens,” he said. He told off Coast residents who have been demonstrating against the SGR on claims that it had taken away business, saying they do not understand the issues at hand.
He urged those who have invested in CFSs and trucks to embrace the new business model.
Mr Balala urged the private sector to collaborate with the government and curb illegal trade.
“The Mombasa port must take action on these two crimes that are destroying our population, heritage and profits. We cannot allow this to happen,” he said.
Mr Balala lauded the Kenya Wildlife Service for working towards eradicating illegal trade in animal trophies.
He instructed his Principal Secretary to visit the facility verify processes at the port of Mombasa to ensure is working.
“We do not want to create delays but definitely we cannot allow not only transit goods but those destined for this country are illegal wildlife products. We are committed to eradicate this menace. We cannot avoid the issue of efficiency, screening and people who want to do criminal business at the port,” he said.
He insisted that fraud continues to be the bane of serious efforts against the global crimes.
“At the port of Mombasa, we had officers manning the importation and exportation of goods and services almost 23 organisations. But we have reduced it to four, there is more attention, efficiency and most importantly focusing on security and taxation,” said Mr Balala.
The CS insisted concerted steps have been taken by President Uhuru Kenyatta, to combat the menace of corruption firmly.
“This fight is not going to be forgotten until we have dealt a death blow to corruption at all border points. The legal frameworks concerning wildlife crime requires considerable upscaling to attract the seriousness it deserves,” warned the CS.
Mr Balala said the huge profits involved in wildlife trafficking allow criminal networks to take advantage of resource-constrained states with poor capacity and weak institutional and legal frameworks.
According to the minister, wildlife crime must be made unprofitable to curb it saying African governments cannot solve the problems in isolation.
“We must join forces to help each other, so that we stay one step ahead of the criminals,” he added.
He further blamed porous borders and poor controls at points contributing to the challenge.
“This not only affects the Port of Africa but also ports in Asia and South East Asia which are also used as transit or destination harbours. Wildlife crime is commonly and wrongly considered a victimless crime yet it destroys hundreds of species and impacting on national security,” he added.
Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC Elephant and Rhino Programme Officer, said East African ports are still being used as transit points.
Wildlife Trade Specialist Mrs Julie Thomson called for collaboration to deal with the illegal wildlife crimes
“Minimise the risks of shipping containers being exploited for illicit trafficking and other forms of black market activities,” said Mrs Thomson.
Illegal wildlife trafficking, Mr Balala said is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans and firearms valuing between Sh7 billion and Sh23 billion each year
Speaking during the Port stakeholders workshop on countering wildlife trafficking through seaports, the CS
Container Freight Stations Associations of Kenya, the CS said the country spends over Sh400 million directly through Kenya Wildlife Service annually in anti-poaching.
“An additional Sh2 billion is used annually through the auxiliary support of anti-poaching and security of wildlife. Wildlife crime has seen has seen an unprecedented increase in the last five years but efforts to fight back against this tide is an extremely costly matter,” Mr Balala said.