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Cargo handlers monitor SGR directive as demos posed

Transporters have given the transport ministry a week to lift the mandatory SGR haulage rule or face more protests.

In Summary

•The Senate Committee on Transport last week asked the transport ministry to allow the business community choose their preferred mode of transport.

•There has been anti-SGR demos in Mombasa every Monday for past 13 weeks as the business community protest against forced use of rail and the 'dying' Mombasa economy.

The SGR Cargo train at the Port of Mombasa, January 4, 2017.
The SGR Cargo train at the Port of Mombasa, January 4, 2017.
Image: FILE

Transporters have given the government a week to lift the mandatory Standard Gauge Railway haulage rule as they temporarily suspend weekly demonstrations.

This comes after a directive by the Senate Committee on Transport which has asked the transport ministry to allow the business community choose their preferred mode of transport for their imports and exports.

The ministry is also expected to allow business through Container Freight Stations (CFSs) which are facing permanent closure under the SGR cargo directive , which requires all imports destined for upcountry be directly moved via SGR to the Nairobi Inland Container Deport(ICD).

 

The Senate directive came last Wednesday after a successful petition by the Fast Action Business Community Movement (FABCOM), which represents a cross-section of port related businesses, transporters,hotels and other service sector businesses.

There has been weekly protests by Mombasa based businesses, civil society and local leaders since the directive came into place in August.

Though transport CS James Macharia has in the last two months insisted the rule had been revised, all cargo has continued to be moved through the SGR, the business community say, with the directive being implemented by Kenya Ports Authority, Kenya Railways and Kenya Revenue Authority under the stewardship of the transport ministry.

“The alleged revocation of the illegal directive was a mere public relations gimmick

and not truly implemented on the ground,” FABCOM organising secretary Harriet Muganda said.

Yesterday, the Kenya Transporters Association chief executive Dennis Ombok confirmed containers are still being loaded on SGR.

“We are monitoring the situation and giving them one week failure to which we will go back to the streets,” Ombok said.

 

Container Freight Station Association (CFSA) chief executive Daniel Nzeki said: “What we are getting is Mombasa cargo and only on request. There is no business. We are waiting for this implementation. They say they have revised but nothing has changed.”

Last Friday, the government through Spokesman Cyrus Oguna banned the anti-SGR protests saying they are a threat to investors and the tourism sector, even as it insists SGR has only been moving 35 per cent of total cargo from Mombasa.

KTA however yesterday said it does not recognise Oguna's ban and its members and the Mombasa business community has only suspended the protests in respect of the Senate Committee, whose directive they hope will be adopted by the ministry.

“Oguna is mis-informed. The constitution gives us a right to peacefully picket,” Ombok said.

CS Macharia is seen to push a government agenda aimed at maximising returns from the SGR to support repayment of the Sh329 billion loan from China, secured in May 2014 for the construction of the 385-km Mombasa-Nairobi rail line.

The credit line from the Exim Bank of China comprises a commercial loan of Sh166.1 billion and Sh162.7 billion (concessional).

ICD data shows in the first eight months of this year, total tonnage moved by SGR between Mombasa and Nairobi was 2,784,171.

Importers, manufacturers and the business community have decried high transport costs on the SGR compared to road transport, which has added to the cost of doing business.

Under new rates which came into place on January 1, transporting a 20ft container now costs between Sh74,165 and Sh76,714 compared to an average Sh65,000 on road.

For a 40ft container, it costs importers between Sh100,240 and Sh103,302 by rail compared to Sh85,000 on road.

“We want to be given a choice between road and rail,” said Mira Shah, Synresins Limited CEO.