TAKING ON CARTELS

New customs chief counts on automation to weed out fraud at KRA

Department collected Sh500bn in the financial year ended June 30.

In Summary

• In Western, Safari is credited for making the Busia One-Stop Border Post a reality.

• Safari is banking on hi-tech surveillance and automation investments to grow Customs revenues by more than Sh110 billion to hit Sh610 billion.

KRA Commissioner for Customs and Border Control Kevin Safari during the interview at his office in Times Tower on September 5, 2019.
KRA Commissioner for Customs and Border Control Kevin Safari during the interview at his office in Times Tower on September 5, 2019.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

In 1996, a towering young man fresh from the University of Nairobi walked into Times Towers, offices of a tax agency established by an Act of Parliament the previous year.

Armed with just a degree in strategic risk management and a desire to learn and serve, Kevin Safari was admitted among the first graduate trainees at the agency tasked with collecting revenues for the national government and facilitating trade.

In February this year, he was appointed Commissioner for Customs and Border Control Department at the Kenya Revenue Authority, the second in command at the tax agency, taking over from Julius Musyoki.

 

He has ascended through the tax collector’s hierarchy during his 23 years of service, working variously as a junior custom officer to heading regional offices in Uasin Gishu and Western.

In Western, Safari, who is considered jovial and friendly by his juniors—a stark difference compared to his predecessor, who was known to be ‘too official’—is credited for making the Busia One-Stop Border Post a reality.

The OSBP has brought about increased efficiency, inter-agency cooperation and improved coordination between all border regulatory agencies.

Further, the OSBP, supported by other trade facilitation initiatives such as the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System and the Single Customs Territory, has decongested border posts and encouraged compliance by traders, including the small-scale cross-border traders.

Other benefits of the OSBPs include improved security, reduced revenue leakage, as well as improved resource utilisation through improved cross-border cooperation and sharing of resources and intelligence.

Last week, the Star found him up and down at his office, helping his boss, James Githii Mburu, the new KRA commissioner-general, to prepare for a meeting.

“Kindly give me about 20 minutes. We will have an interview but be ready for frequent interruptions. I am a busy man,” Safari said.

 

His department collected Sh500 billion in the financial year ended June 30, accounting for 33 per cent of total revenues collected by KRA.

The agency collected Sh1.58 trillion for the year, missing collection target by Sh25 billion.

The Centralised Monitoring Centre at the KRA building.
The Centralised Monitoring Centre at the KRA building.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

Safari is banking on hi-tech surveillance and automation investments to grow Customs revenues by more than Sh110 billion to hit Sh610 billion and more economic dividends through effective trade facilitation this financial year.

Even so, he admits that it won’t be a walk in the park.

He said criminal elements that have been riding on largely mechanical operations in cargo movement and cross-border trade are fighting back.

“We are working towards limiting illicit trade by blocking any porous [borders] within our systems. As we invest in hi-tech scanners, tracking devices and real-time monitoring equipment, criminals are on the lookout. We won’t give them a chance,” Safari said.

In under seven months of his term, KRA has intercepted smuggled goods worth billions of shillings, including ethanol, high-end vehicles, drugs and fertiliser, among others, as the government wages war on counterfeits and illicit trade.

In May, it seized 56,700 litres of ethanol and a further 20,000 litres in early July worth Sh15 million and Sh6.5 million in tax revenue.

We sought to know how he is adjusting to the new office, what motivates him, achievements so far, challenges and plans ahead as the agency fights to beat the Sh1.8 trillion revenue target given to it by Treasury this financial year.

The Star: How is it like heading Customs and Border Controls at the Kenya Revenue Authority?

Safari: (Laughs) Well, the job is demanding but I got to do what is needed of me. My team and I are doing everything legally possible to facilitate trade not only in Kenya but the entire East Africa. When we are not monitoring the screening of cargo at the port of entry, we are monitoring the movement of cargo along the Northern Corridor in real time. Thanks to technology.

The Star: Was this the job you envisioned growing up?

Safari: I have always wanted to be a servant. I was an altar boy for the better part of my childhood. I wanted to become a priest but here I am, doing what I love most...serving people.

The Star: Guarding customs and border is a dangerous job. You are standing in the way of cartels who want to transport their illicit ethanol and other commodities. Are you not afraid?

Safari: (Stretches arms before giving a tough look) Show me any harmless job? It is the government’s duty to ensure people are trading efficiently and fairly. My job as a government officer is to...facilitate trade within and outside our borders.

The Star: Ethanol is the most smuggled commodity in the region. We have seen KRA intercept thousands of litres, where are the culprits?

Safari: Ethanol has a huge market here in Kenya. It is very profitable, hence, a commodity of choice for smugglers. Very few components and water is added to make cheap liquor, destroying lives of our brothers and sisters. The trade involves highly placed cartels. We are liaising with relevant stakeholders to unmask the ring.

The Star: Customs and Border Control revenues hit Sh500 billion in the last financial year. What was the magic? What is your target in 2019-20?

Safari: I look at the bigger picture—trade facilitation. We have in the past three years invested heavily in innovations to improve efficiency.

The Star: What is the Integrated Customs Management System and how is it helping to seal revenue loopholes?

Safari: The Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICMS) is a modern, robust and efficient system that runs on the latest technological platforms which seamlessly connects with KRA’s internal systems and external stakeholders’ systems to achieve faster cargo clearance.

It enables trade efficiency by increasing speed in the cargo clearance process, reduction of complexities associated with several systems of the automation of manual processes and re-engineering of processes.

Implemented in phases, the system aims at improving Kenya’s Ease of Doing Business [ranking] by simplifying processes that enable pre-arrival processing and entrenching a process that will allow Authorised Economic Operators (AEOs) to enjoy greater preferential treatment that previously could not be accorded to them due to limitations of the previous Simba system.

The Star: How different is ICMS compared to Simba system?

Safari: In Simba, submission and reading of cargo documents is manual. This system facilitates automatic upload of cargo import information to prevent falsification and enable exchange of information with iTax to counter non-compliant traders. It requires shippers or their agents to submit cargo clearance documentation such as import declaration forms, cargo manifests, security bonds, cargo declarations and exemptions.

The Star: How safe is the system.

Safari: Measures have been put in place to ensure the system is not hacked as it is separated with credentials for database being different and encrypted information between ICMS and external integrated system environment or rather separation of external and internal users.

Once fully implemented, ICMS will counter security threats through a robust risk management system that will ensure a secure trade chain, facilitate regional integration by integrating with regional revenue administrations, and providing for transparency of the cargo as the system eliminates human intervention.

The new system is a game changer at the Customs and Border Control Department. It fosters faster clearance of cargo at the port, streamlines Customs processes and enhances trade facilitation in Kenya and the entire East Africa Community (EAC) region. There is reduction cost in making business and paperless environment of this integrated system as there is no need for pre-arrival clearance in both airlines and shipping lines with an increase in compliance in regards to level playing ground of trade and fair revenue assessment.

The Star: What is this hype about inland container depots. Are they relevant?

Safari: You call it hype, I call it a game changer. These facilities will help decongest the container terminal at the port by reducing container dwell time through enhanced take-off of import containerised cargo for clearance at the ICD.

In addition, the depots also facilitate for the dispatch of export containers therefore increasing container turn-around time creating more space at the Container Terminal in Mombasa. ICDs, like the one in Embakasi upgraded at the cost of Sh22 billion, facilitate the diversion of heavy container traffic from road to rail.

This in turn minimises road damage caused by heavy trucking thus ensuring smoother roads while giving them more life. We have started to reap dividends from the one in Embakasi. We look forward to others in Naivasha and Kisumu.


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