How to resolve the current transport infrastructure woes

Columnists

Traffic jam Traffic jam in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A good transport system is a crucial ingredient for a thriving manufacturing sector owing to its function in the supply chain that impacts on quality and cost of production. It catalyses export business by ensuring timely and quality delivery to the global market, thereby generating Foreign Direct Investments and additional sources of revenue for the country.

Kenya has, in the recent past, seen several infrastructure projects initiated especially in the transport sub-sectors including road, rail, maritime and non-motorized transport, all intended to improve logistics and supply chain efficiency.

Notable infrastructure developments include completion and operationalization of phase one of the Second Container Terminal at Mombasa Port and the completion of the expansion of the Inland Container Depot Nairobi (ICDN).

Additionally, we had the construction of the first three berths of the Lamu Port, expansion of gates and yard capacity, installation of the Integrated Port Security System and the successful completion of the first Phase of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).

Though well intended, these new developments have had teething problems in their implementation that have inevitably doubled, and in some cases, tripled the cost of logistics and transportation.

Such implementation challenges are not unusual in large projects and their occurrence should not overshadow the bigger picture. However, these challenges must be acknowledged for solutions and short-term impactful measures to be created in collaboration with stakeholders, so as to get back on track towards making Kenya a competitive environment with world-class infrastructure.

The development and operationalization of SGR Phase one was expected to among other things, reduce freight transport tariff charges from US$0.20 per tonne-kilometre on average to US$0.083 per tonne-kilometre, and reduce transit time of freight trains from 30 hours on the average to less than eight hours in the Mombasa–Nairobi section. Due to the logistical, storage and planning challenges around the port, these gains are yet to be realized.

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There are a few suggestions on how to move forward from the current predicament.

First, to curb the soaring demurrage and storage costs, we need to review the period given to importers during which they can clear their cargo free of charge.

This needs to be aligned with cargo clearing agencies service charters which provide for more than 4-days for clearing of goods.

Secondly, the SGR operator ought to provide a ‘door-to-door’ service on the delivery of goods by rail. Currently the co-ordination between the rail operator, clearing agents and transporters is below optimal, creating log-jams both in and outside ICD Nairobi as well as the Port.

Thirdly, as a country, we need to first track the development of harmonised verification standards that will be used by the Kenya Bureau of Standards, the Multi-Agency Team and any other body charged with the point of departure quality checks.

Fourth, the recurrent issue of system downtime is also one that compounds the challenges faced with logistics and movement of cargo.

MUCAI KUNYIHA, Vice Chairman, Kenya Association of Manufacturers.