- Transporters say they will have to pass the cost to importers and exporters, with final cost of goods expected to go up
- The Covid test charge adds up to costs brought about by cross-border delays
Traders in the region face higher transport costs as the Ugandan government starts charging truck drivers for Covid-19 tests.
Effective September 1, truck drivers have to part with $65 (Sh7,039) to get tested for coronavirus, a move that will push up the already high cost of transport and doing business in the region.
The Ugandan government has reversed its earlier decision for free testing of truck drivers and facilitation of the movement of goods.
Inquiries by the Star yesterday indicated Uganda has resolved to charge for tests after Kenya failed to efficiently execute the exercise on its end, amid corruption claims in the handling of Covid-19 funds which has affected smooth testing programs.
The neighbouring country is said to be overburdened by Kenyan drivers seeking services from the Ugandan side, as they avoid long waiting time in Kenya where it takes up to three days before they are tested.
Testing and results in Uganda are taking eight to 12 hours, transporters say, making it more reliable and preferred by truck drivers who are keen to ensure shorter truck turn-around time between Mombasa and key transit destinations, mainly Uganda, Burundi, DR Congo, South Sudan and Rwanda.
“Kenya has been very inconsistent in testing drivers. For example a place like Mombasa, you can wait up to eight days before getting results. Sometimes it they even fail to come or you go for testing and you are told there are enough kits” said Kenya Transporters Association(KTA) Chief Operating Officer Mercy Ireri.
In an intergovernmental communique seen by the Star, the Ugandan health ministry says it continues to receive requests from organisations to have their staff-tested, which it finds difficult to sustain due to the inadequate in-country stock of the test kits, resource constraints and the high cost of Covid-19 testing.
“In view of the above fact, therefore, the government has introduced a testing fee of $65 per test-on certain categories of individuals and organisations,” Permanent Secretary Geoffrey Sseremba says.
“This is a cost-recovery mechanism that will enable the ministry of health to acquire more test kits for continued access to testing services in the country,” he adds.
A Covid-19 testing fee collection account has been opened at Stanbic Bank Uganda where payments will be made to facilitate testing.
Those required to pay are truck drivers at the different points of entry, individuals seeking to know their Covid-19 status, organisations (both government and private ) that wish to test their staff for purpose of prevention, Ugandans returning from abroad and visitors.
Free testing is only for patients presenting symptoms at hospitals, contact persons, community surveys to established the extent of spread of the virus, surveillance samples, and front line health workers.
KTA yesterday said transporters will have no choice but to pass the cost to import and exporters, who will ultimately charge consumers, meaning the cost of goods will also rise.
“Any cost added increases the cost of doing business, even if it is a shilling,” Ireri said, calling on the two governments to dialogue and provide a friendly business environment.
The Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (KIFWA) yesterday said the charges add up to an already costly business environment, occasioned by border delays which have increased truck turn around time.
As of yesterday morning, the queue at Malaba border was stretching about 20-30 kilometers into Kenya, as drivers await clearance.
Kenyan trucks and drivers account for 87 per cent of transit movement between Mombasa and the hinterland.
“Drivers are already taking more days to do a turn around trip which comes with increased costs on the road to cover their allowances, cargo security and other expenses. Charging drivers is just worsening the situation,” Kifwa national chairman Roy Mwanthi said in a telephone interview.
The cross-border delays occasioned by Covid-19 have increased transport costs between Mombasa and key East Africa transit destinations by between $300 (Sh32, 490) and $1000 (Sh108, 301) according to the Shippers Council of East Africa..
Delays at borders have increased truck turn-around time between Mombasa and Kampala from an average of 3.7 days to about 10, the time a truck takes to deliver cargo to Kampala and return to Mombasa.
“The delays at the borders result to an additional cost of $200 USD per day for every extra day taken as per the current transit time compared to the pre-Covid time which was at zero additional cost,” SCEA CEO Gilbert Langat notes.
Uganda accounts for 83.2 per cent of transit cargo through the port of Mombasa, into the hinterland via the Northern Corridor, with South Sudan taking up 9.9 per cent.
DR Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda account for 7.2 per cent, 3.2 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively.