Pubdate: Mon, 03 Nov 2003
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2003 Nation Newspapers
Author: David Okwembah



Security loopholes made smuggling of firearms, drugs and fake goods
through Eldoret easy

Drug trafficking, illegal importation of firearms, contraband goods
and inadequate security led to a ban on cargo flights to Kenya's third
international airport four months ago.

A report prepared by an eight-man ministerial committee details the
problems that led to the closure of the Eldoret International Airport
in July. It was reopened on Saturday.

Prepared by an under-secretary in the Transport and Communications
ministry, Mr Charles Kimemia, it calls for sweeping changes that
should include the management and security systems.

Consequently, the long-serving airport manager, Mr Samson Nyole, has
been sent on compulsory leave awaiting redeployment. He has been
replaced by Mr John Otieno on an acting capacity.

According to Daily Nation investigations, firearms smugglers and
businessmen importing contraband and sub-standard goods found the
airport a lucrative entry point.

The airport is well-known for handling imported goods such as
electronics, textiles, cosmetics, watches, utensils and plastics, most
of which are said to be sub-standard.

The investigations dwelt on:

How guns are smuggled through the airport,

Importation of sub-standard goods,

Evasion of duty,

Under-valuation of goods,

Landing of unlicensed planes,

Laxity in the enforcement of immigration rules.

Most of the goods imported through the airport were transported by
road to Nairobi, more than 300 kilometres away.

The smugglers, taking advantage of security lapses and laxity among
airport workers brought in dismantled firearms disguised as motor
vehicle spare parts and electronics.

Transport and Communications minister John Michuki declined to discuss
the security report handed to his office, saying only that the
Government would act on it.

"We can't share issues raised in this report because they are matters
touching on State security. We shall act on what the report says," he

An assistant minister in the Office of the President in charge of
security, Mr Stephen Tarus, said the airport lacked an efficient
security system.

"Security is compromised if human and goods entry points are not
properly manned," Mr Tarus said.

Sources close to some of the importers said most of the planes
delivering sub-standard goods and guns originated from the Middle East
with stop-overs in Somalia.

"Dismantled guns were brought in as either shock absorbers for various
motor vehicle models or as spare parts and were smuggled under the
noses of the airport security and airport workers," says an employee
who sought anonymity.

Another source said the firearms found their way to various outlets in
the Somali-dominated Eastleigh estate exhibition halls and bazaars.

Similarly, hard drugs including cocaine and heroin were imported
through the airport stashed in electronic goods.

"Radio speakers were usually lined with hard drugs such as heroin and
cocaine which were cleared as electronics," our source added. Mr Tarus
said the airport was popular with drug traffickers because it lacked
the necessary equipment to detect the narcotics.

Those dealing in hard drugs included unregistered companies, said Mr
Tarus, adding: "There is need to protect local industries and genuine
businessmen from those out to wreck the country's economy through
fraudulent dealings."

A businesswoman, who buys electronic goods and textiles from Dubai,
said she was used to entrusting her goods to an agent for clearance
through the airport.

She said none of her goods had ever been opened, lending credence to
fears that anything could be brought in through the airport. Also of
concern is the assessment of payable duty, which cannot be calculated
unless goods are declared.

The businesswoman said she paid duty for her goods while still in
Dubai and collected them on arrival in Nairobi.

This year alone, the Government is said to have lost about Sh1 billion
through under-valuation of goods and services.

Mr Michuki said only Sh488 million was collected last year by Customs
officials and that a staggering Sh977 million could not be accounted

The minister said he had written to the Finance ministry detailing the
anomaly and proposing that targets for revenue at the airport be set
at Sh1.5 billion per year.

In March, sub-standard goods worth millions of shillings impounded at
the airport were set ablaze.

Mr Michuki said planes destined for the airport would now have to file
a manifest with the civil aviation department before landing rights
were granted.

Mr Salat Dahir of Amal Freighters, who specialise in electronics and
textiles from Dubai, denied it was the underhand dealings that led to
the closure of the airport.

"The charges at Eldoret are half what we would normally be charged at
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and there are no delays," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake