SINGLE CUSTOMS TERRITORY

Harmonized Customs boosts trade, reduces transnational crimes

Unscrupulous traders tend to misuse the physically impaired persons riding wheelchairs to stuff goods under the wheelchair seats and move them across the borders in several trips

In Summary

• Kenya still faces the challenge of dumping of transit goods, thus compromising revenue, security and safety, unlike the land-locked countries.

• The expansive porous borders between Kenya and the neighbouring countries also pose a challenge to border control amid the vibrant trade and high movement of persons.

Harmonisation of regional borders
Harmonisation of regional borders

The coming together of the East African Community members to harmonize customs processes has not only made it easier for traders to do business but also drastically reduced serious transnational crimes and enhanced revenue collection.

This is mainly attributed to the implementation of the Single Customs Territory.

Established in 2014, the SCT has reduced the cost of doing business by eliminating duplication of processes. It has also reduced administrative costs, regulatory requirements and the risks associated with non-compliance on the transit of goods. This is because taxes are paid at the first point of entry for all the partner states.

 

Going by the latest statistics on revenue collection from the borders, it is evident that the investment on joint Customs initiatives is bearing fruits. Most One Stop Border Posts, being one of the SCT initiative, coadministered by KRA customs and revenue agencies from the other EAC member states have registered growth in revenue.

Commonly traded goods in the region include sugar, timber, unprocessed tobacco and fresh farm produce, coffee, cotton lint, teak logs/beams, construction materials, vehicle spare parts and manufactured goods.

Further, the OSBP concept has increased border crossing speed and efficiency hence reducing barriers to trade and improving business competitiveness.

The average time taken to clear a truck is 5-10 minutes compared to 2-3 days previously. On the Northern Corridor, the turnaround time of goods transitin from Mombasa to Kampala has been reduced from 18 days to four, and goods from Mombasa to Kigali, from 21 days to six.

Kenya is the gateway to the East and Central Africa as well as part of the Horn of Africa. The country is strategically placed but still faces the challenge of dumping of transit goods, thus compromising revenue, security and safety, unlike the land-locked countries.

The expansive porous borders between Kenya and the neighbouring countries also pose a challenge to border control amid the vibrant trade and high movement of persons. At the borders stations, Customs and Border Control officers have been vigilant to mitigate risks associated with transnational crimes and illicit trade.

On July 20, Customs officers at the Isibania border station thwarted a child trafficking scheme by three suspects. This was a shocking incident as trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights and a global concern.

 

Lately, Customs officers at the border stations have unraveled witty schemes used by unscrupulous traders, some of them invisible, to move goods through the authorized border points. They include the use of physically challenged persons to move the goods in small quantities and stock them across the border to evade paying required taxes.

Unscrupulous traders tend to misuse the physically impaired persons riding wheelchairs to stuff goods under the wheelchair seats and move them across the borders in several trips. These persons would claim that they sell the goods in a shop across the border, which may not be the case. This not only leads to revenue loss but is a great security threat to the region since terrorists may use the scheme to move weapons and ammunition or chemicals used in making explosives.

The commonly smuggled goods are illicit liquor, polythene paper bags after the Nema ban in Kenya, foreign-registered vehicles and fast-moving goods.

To deal with smuggling problems, Customs from Kenya and Uganda are carrying out joint enforcement activities to counter traders, smugglers and human traffickers at the borders. The initiative also involves Multiagency teams to comprise Customs and security agencies from both countries.

Customs officers also do joint validation of data and sealing of trucks with Electronic Cargo Tracking Seals. Initially, the respective countries used to conduct border patrols without their counterparts.

Additionally, at the OSBP, high-risk cargo is subjected to 100 per cent verification to assess compliance to ensure Customs facilitate legitimate trade.

KRA Customs also use sniffer dogs (K9s) and baggage scanners in verification to ensure no prohibited goods are sneaked across the border. Plans are also underway to use drones, motion sensors, and modern patrol units for surveillance along the borderline and install non-intrusive cargo scanners at all OSBPS.

KRA has also established Rapid Response Units across the whole region to monitor goods under Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking Seals.

Harmonization of Customs practices is, therefore, about a significant reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and movement of factors of production across national boundaries. However, this needs a careful balancing act between trade facilitation and Customs enforcement in an increasingly insecure and unsafe environment. Therefore, regional cooperation has a great potential for spurring growth and development of national economies of member states.

Kaguru is the regional coordinator, Western Region, KRA