The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) is pushing for more stringent penalties against unscrupulous scrap metal dealers exporting the product to neighbouring countries.
KRA deputy commissioner in charge of the western region Pamela Ahago says that despite the business being outlawed, some traders are still exporting scrap automotive batteries using the porous border points.
Ms Ahago, while confirming the arrest of a driver transporting scrap batteries to Tanzania at Isebania border point, said the authority is committed to eradicate the vice even as she called for enhanced vigilance among the industry players.
The arrest of the driver and the impounding of the truck comes two weeks after two other drivers were arrested in Oloitoktok, Kajiado County while transporting scrap batteries to Tanzania.
The two drivers were later convicted and fined Sh300,000 and their trucks forfeited to the state in line with the provisions of the Scrap Metal Act.
According to Ms Ahago, the driver arrested in Isebania was trying to escape from customs officials only for his truck to break.
“The driver did not have the requisite documentation like the Export permit from KRA and a licence from the National Environment Management Authority (Nema),” she said, adding that the driver will be charged with the offence tomorrow (Thursday).
Nema Director-General Mamo Mamo said that the authority, in partnership with other relevant government agencies, had adopted an intelligence-based enforcement approach, where they gather intelligence before striking.
“This approach has really worked and has truly borne fruit, with arrests of the offenders dealing with hazardous waste along our porous borders,” Mr Mamo said.
Unmanned leaky routes
With the KRA tightening inspection regimes at the border points, scrap metal dealers have opted to use unmanned leaky routes to smuggle their items.
Busia, Namanga, Taveta, and Lungalunga border points have been identified as the main routes used by unscrupulous traders to drive the illegal scrap metal trade.
Offenders are liable to a jail term of up to 20 years or a fine of Sh20 million or both.
Kenya banned the export of scrap metals, which include spent lead acid batteries (SLABs), through the Scrap Metal Act that was enacted in 2015.
The Act is meant to support the retention of the raw material locally for value addition and provides stringent conditions under which exports of lead would be permitted.
Automotive battery manufacturers have over the past few years been pushing for full implementation of the law that is critical to safeguarding against job losses.
Automotive battery manufacturers rely on lead extracted and recycled to make the batteries, referred to as recycling spent lead-acid batteries (Slabs).
The East African region has two lead-acid battery manufacturers — Associated Battery Manufacturers (ABM) and Uganda Batteries Limited (UBL).
The two manufacturers produce about 30 per cent of the East African market requirement.
These manufacturers acquire the raw materials by collecting Slabs from garages and homes.
On average, the ABM has been collecting about 1,600 tonnes of Slabs monthly but this has reduced to below 600 tonnes.
However, the proliferation of illicit traders has seen the raw materials dwindling and, therefore, out of reach for the manufacturers.
Kenya, being the largest consumer of lead-acid batteries in the EAC region, produces more than a third of the Slabs but recycles only about a quarter.
The rest vanishes into illegal exports into neighbouring countries, mainly Tanzania where there are five smelters.