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Kenya Starts Extensive Probe into Corruption at Mombasa Port - 2004-02-26

A preliminary report by Kenya's ethics department says there are serious corruption problems at the Port of Mombasa.

A wide range of counterfeit goods enter Kenya through the Port of Mombasa, while other goods are undervalued for customs purposes. These are some of the findings of preliminary investigations conducted in Mombasa by the Department of Governance and Ethics in the middle of February.

A spokesman for the department, Kairichi Marimba, says the counterfeit products, which come mostly from Asian countries, look identical or similar to brand name products but are cheaper and of poorer quality. He says they take business away from the companies that make the genuine products.

As for the undervalued products, Mr. Marimba says companies and importers are largely to blame. "It can occur at the invoicing stage," he said. "The company that is selling goods to you, in collusion with the importer, can simply give you an invoice that indicates the value is lesser. So, a customs officer may not be necessarily be committing a crime."

The report also found other abuses. It says some goods meant to be transported are instead kept near the port, while others are manufactured or repackaged in Kenya to make it look like they have been imported.

Mr. Marimba declined to give details of the counterfeit goods, the frequency of abuses, or whether customs officers or other government officials are involved in the corruption. He says the department's final report should be out in a few weeks.

The deputy director of Transparency International-Kenya, Mwalimu Mati, says his organization has just completed a case study of the Kenya Ports Authority.

"There is a problem of bribery within the port - probably not in the KPA [Kenya Ports Authority] itself, which is like the owner of the physical establishment, but within the customs department there are problems, within the police who operate within the port there are problems," he said.

The biggest problem, according to Mr. Mati, is that the Port of Mombasa is "doing 21st century business with very old equipment." He says the poor equipment makes it difficult for officers to closely scrutinize containers that pass through the port.

The ethics department's investigation follows complaints that counterfeit goods are flooding Kenyan markets, duty is not paid on some goods, and substandard products are imported, among other concerns.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards is in the process of analyzing various products. Mr. Marimba says the department intends to take counterfeiters to court.