Singaporean authorities seized a 3.7-tonne haul worth about $6 million, in raw ivory, four pieces of rhino horn and 22 teeth from cheetahs and leopards. They were hidden in bags of a shipment of tea leaves to Vietnam. This comes only a month after Thailand also seized three tonnes of elephant ivory shipped from Kenya, which was also marked as tea leaves.
The seizure has enraged many Kenyans, with many angered by what they term as incompetence of government agencies clearing exports at the port.
“Somebody at the customs and clearance is sleeping on their job. How does a shipment of tea transform into Ivory without the knowledge of one or two officials? Such things would not happen if everyone did their job,”
said Job , an employee of a freight company in Mombasa.
Siginon Freight, a Mombasa logistics firm, which handled the storage of the tea leaves in its warehouses has come under fire for its role. According to sources, they mixed and packed the tea leaves. Meshack Kipturgo, Siginon MD claims they received tea blending instructions from the shipper, Almasi Chai Kenya through the exporting company, Potential Quality Services (PQS).
John Njiraini, who is the KRA commissioner, revealed that amendments were made on the export documents, such as changing the destination from Dubai to Thailand and Vietnam through Singapore. He also added that the amendments were not shared with Kenya Customs and these omissions are part of the issues being addressed with the shippers undertaken by the KRA team. In its defense, KRA claims the seizure was facilitated by an alert issued to the Singaporean authorities by KRA Customs team on April 28.
However, KRA actions point more at a cover up than genuine attempts to uncover the shipment of more than 6 tonnes of Ivory within a month from the port. For the two hauls, KRA suspended one member of staff who is being investigated. However, those well versed with port operations say that one person cannot be responsible for shipping 6,000 kgs of ivory from Mombasa. Such a mega deal usually corrupts a whole chain and KRA should have cleared the decks instead of a token suspension designed to take away the heat and scrutiny.
KRA staff are also accused of purposely messing about with the scanners at the port leading to breakdowns. Even a small piece of ivory cannot go past the scanners, so the scanners somehow break down and it results to random manual scanning. Random checking is a very convenient way to ensure that some containers pass unopened.
The game is played within the system, first the scanner breaks down and KRA reverts to manual scanning, which is slow. As a result, exporters, transporters and other stakeholders from neighbouring countries start agitating for quicker processing and these calls hit that national media or statehouse. The noise forces action and the staff at the port have to quicken the process; thus random checks where some trucks will pass unchecked. In there Ivory, Copper and other contraband is shipped out.
Why should the country’s port have one x-ray scanner with no backups? Already damage to our elephant population is immense and loss of revenues far surpass the cost of additional scanners. KRA, instead of ensuring that we have a foolproof scanning system at the port has in place a system that is designed to fail without backups or alternatives.
Would KRA let Times Tower run without backup generators? The answer is obvious. Then you must ask yourself why we have one scanner at the port of Mombasa, why it breaks down so frequently and who benefits from this inefficiency.