By Phyllis Wakiaga
The fight against illicit has gone into full gear in the past few weeks, revealing the extent to which the criminal networks have proliferated our country and posed serious threat to the lives and safety of all citizens. The Multi-agency taskforce appointed to spearhead this initiative has unearthed many Counterfeiters who have been infiltrating our markets with fake and substandard products. The fact that these efforts are showing remarkable progress in such a short time is indeed laudable, and needs to be sustained.
We should keep in mind however, that whilst the fight against illicit trade is a vital intervention, it is essential that we do not divert these efforts and resources to frustrate genuine businesses. This is especially so in the context of a manufacturing sector that is severely affected by the trade of counterfeits and sub-standard goods.
This week, media reports on ‘Sugar Barons’ surfaced naming companies that are alleged to have imported large amounts of sugar into the country. It is vital to clarify that the ‘Sugar’ that has made headlines as part of the substandard goods confiscated, is table sugar (used in homes) that was brought into the country illegally and therefore not subjected to the strict verification process that all imported goods should.
This is not to be conflated with industrial sugar which many manufacturers use to make their products. Industrial Sugar is imported because as a country we do not have the capacity to produce it; and even when it is imported, it has to follow a rigorous channel of verification and certification to be allowed into the country. This includes registration with the Sugar Directorate, gazettement under the EAC Customs Duty Remission Scheme, Inspection by Port Health, KRA, KEBS, and much more. These Regulations are specific, and require manufacturers to secure advance approval from the Regulators, for each consignment, on price, quality, origin and volume.
Therefore it would be in accurate to lump these legitimate businesses with the real enemy – which is a growing network of illicit traders, who do not contribute to nation building and economic growth.
Of utmost concern is the threat that negligent reports on this issue pose to the country’s efforts to boost trade with its neighbours in the EAC and markets in other trading blocs. Kenya’s regional trade has dwindled in some cases and stagnated in others; and this being a particularly pivotal point due to the Big Four agenda, it is essential that we do all we can as a country to boost our trading footprint across Africa.
Any inaccuracies that derail us from the main mission of fighting illicit trade, towards frustrating legitimate businesses, undermine significant progress that Kenya has made in strengthening trade relations with our valued partner states. It also contributes to unnecessary closure of manufacturer’s white refined sugar stores by Government agencies when focus and resources should be targeting illicit and sub-standard goods
As a country, we need to prioritize the very real and malevolent enemy that is counterfeiters and illicit trade networks. They continue to become increasingly sophisticated and evasive, enabled by corruption and loopholes in our regulatory system. This is where our fight should be centered.
Hence, it is important that accurate reports on these issues are provided to the public, as it would be counterproductive and punitive to industry to target those who genuinely conduct their business towards achieving economic growth and development. Our approach needs to be coordinated and cohesive towards a common goal – which is to secure the lives and safety of our citizens and to criminalize illegal acts that sabotage this.
The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org