Lawmakers on Thursday engaged in shouting matches during a meeting called to discuss the government’s directive for all imported cargo to be transported from the port of Mombasa by the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
The National Assembly's Transport committee had summoned Cabinet Secretary James Macharia to shed light on the directive that concerns cargo destined for Nairobi and other hinterlands.
The notice jointly by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) was suspended Tuesday evening, hours before its planned implementation on Wednesday.
The meeting descended into chaos as members of the committee accused MPs from the Coast of behaving as if they are the "only authority on matters concerning the port”.
CS Macharia looked on in amusement as the legislators tore into each other, with Mathira's Rigathu Gachagua accusing MPs led by Mvita’s Abdulswamad Nassir of opposing the directive for the benefit of operators of Container Freight Stations (CFSs).
“The port of Mombasa is a national asset. We should not listen to people who have come here to advance the interests of CFSs at the expense of a sound government directive,” Mr Gachagua said.
His position was supported by committee chairman David Pkosing as well as MPs Samuel Arama (Nakuru West) and Rindikiri Mugambi (Buuri), who dismissed as self-serving, the push by coast MPs to oppose the directive.
“The real issues behind the opposition are the interests of CFSs but we must be clear that private people running the stations have no business opposing a government directive.”
Trouble started when Mr Nassir rejected an explanation given by the CS on the thinking behind the directive.
The CS had told the committee that entrenched corruption and other operational malpractices involving collusion between port employees and agents of the CFSs informed the directive.
Mr Macharia further noted that local leaders were consulted before the order was communicated.
“The port is part of an integrated system that links up to the SGR and touches on the dry port in Nairobi, the port in Kisumu, Bukoba, all the way to the DR Congo. If we don’t get it right, it will not be effective,” he said.
He also pointed out that the directive touched on containerised cargo and would not affect bulk or transit cargo.
The CS further told the committee that the directive was the result of a mutual agreement on how to improve efficiency at the port in line with international requirements.
However, Mr Nassir, Mr Mwashetani and Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki denied knowledge of any consultations and challenged the CS to reveal their nature and the parties that were involved.
Mr Faki insisted that the directive was not in line with the law as the Competition Authority of Kenya was not involved, and alleged that it was aimed at turning the SGR into a monopoly.
The CS said, “We have details of the consultative meeting held last Friday. I have no minutes of the meeting but I can confirm it was held."
Mr Macharia denied Mr Nassir's claim that the SGR is expensive and that importers are being forced to use it to refinance the loan Kenya took to construct it.
Giving a comparative analysis, the CS said it takes Sh2,275 for the SGR to transport one metric tonne from Mombasa to Nairobi, whereas it costs road transporters Sh2,700 to move the same cargo.
It takes the SGR $670 dollars to transport 20 feet of containerised cargo while a similar container costs $850 to be transported by road, he said, adding a 40-foot container costs $950 by SGR and $1,100 by road.