Close to 40,000 tonnes of Pakistani rice is being held at the Mombasa port, following the closure of two container freight stations (CFSs) owned by the family of Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.
The move threatens to hurt bilateral agreements between Kenya and Pakistan, which is one of the major markets for Kenyan tea.
The Pakistani High Commission on Thursday asked Kenyan authorities to release the rice, saying the importers were genuine and there was nothing illegal about the import.
Commercial Counsellor Amir Mohyuddin said the rice, which had been imported by Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), had been at the port for more than two months and was to have been cleared by Autoports and Portside CFSs, which were shut by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) over allegations of dealing in contraband goods.
Mr Mohyuddin visited the port Thursday with REAP chairman Rafique Suleiman and Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association Chairman Eric Gitonga to try and resolve the matter.
The development comes as some importers accused KRA of trying to intimidate Autoports management, after 20 more containers were impounded at the CFS on Tuesday.
KRA’s commissioner for Customs & Border Control, Mr Julius Musyoki, said the consignment was new, but a manager at Autoports, Mr Salim Juma, said the cargo had been lying at the CFS since November last year.
Association of Importers of Kenya chairman Peter Mambembe accused KRA of failing to pursue illegal importers whom he claimed were well known.
“KRA has a list of rogue agents and importers and if they were serious about tracking them down, it would take a few hours. This is a conspiracy to target the CFSs unfairly and the government should shed light on this matter,” he said.
Mr Mohyuddin said the commission had taken over the matter and was trying to resolve it with relevant government officials.
“We held discussions with Kenya Ports Authority acting managing director Catherine Muturi and we explained that REAP are genuine exporters of Pakistani rice,” he said, adding that they had also held talks with senior KRA officials.
The official sought to assure Kenya that Pakistani exporters would not raise their charges on rice imports and that their government supported efforts to root out illegal practices at the port.
“We are cognizant of the fact that Pakistan is contributing towards food security in this country by providing quality rice at affordable prices, so we don’t want to pass on the extra storage costs to the consumers,” he said, adding, “the bilateral trade between Kenya and Pakistan is more than $600 million.”
COST OF STORAGE
Mr Suleiman said the government was within its mandate to stop operations at the CFS but he requested that the cost of storage be waived. “If we’ll pay the demurrage costs to the shipping lines it will be unfair to the consumers. Rice is the second staple for Kenyans,” he said.
The closure of the firms late last month sparked a war of words between the Opposition and the government, with Cord leaders blaming politics for the closure.
But KRA said it was only investigating possible tax evasion, denying that politics had anything to do with it.