The government has been faulted for failing to implement the Scrap Metal Act, which outlaws irregular exportation of the materials.
The criticism from scrap metal dealers comes just days after President Uhuru Kenyatta banned exports and dealings in the materials, a move that will hit thousands of families who depend on the trade for a living.
Prof Karanja Njoroge, the chairman of the Public Interest Group in Scrap Metal Industry, urged the President to punish Ministry of Industrialisation officials for sleeping on the job.
“It came to us as a surprise that the President issued the directive on a matter that is already banned in law. If the law was to be implemented to the letter, the illegal trade would have been tamed by now,” Prof Karanja said.
The Scrap Metal Act of 2015 regulates and manages the scrap metal industry in Kenya.
It endeavours to control and regulate the handling of the materials, their export, and the licensing and registration of dealers. A Scrap Metal Council was to be established to streamline activities in the sector.
Under the Act, the Industrialisation Cabinet secretary can allow exports when the material is not in demand by local industries.
Curb wanton vandalism
To curb wanton vandalism of public and private property, the law also provides for a disclosure system for dealers.
The theft of public assets like machinery, utility infrastructure, power cables, manhole covers, steel signage structures and power transformers and others has been associated with unscrupulous dealers in the scrap metal trade.
“The enactment of this law was a result of many hours of work by our legislature as well as long and protracted efforts by many Kenyans of all walks of life,” Prof Karanja said.
Prof Karanja spoke even as industrialists, public asset managers, environmentalists and the general public raised concerns over the theft of public assets like power and communication lines, highway guard rails and railway slippers.
Announcing the ban, President Kenyatta said no dealer would be allowed to engage in the business until the required guidelines are developed to regulate the industry.
“As of today, we will no longer allow, and we have put a moratorium on the export or the buying or selling of any scrap material until we have put in place proper guidelines,” he said.
“These guidelines will ensure that material is not coming from the hard-won investments that the Kenyan people have made.”
The ban comes as Kenya sees an increase in vandalism, mainly on power lines. The purloined materials are sold to unscrupulous metal dealers, recyclers and steel rolling mills.
Metals that fetch high prices, such as copper, lead and aluminium, are shipped out to international markets, particularly India and China.
“We got a sigh of relief when the Scrap Metal Act was signed into law after an arduous process of public complaints about environmental and public health issues brought by illicit operators of scrap metal in Kenya. But to date, nothing much has been achieved,” noted Prof Karanja.
He lamented that despite persistent pleas to the Ministry of Industrialisation to implement the law, nothing had been done, forcing him, in February 2018, to petition the National Assembly’s Committee on Implementation to have the ministry explain the status quo.
Prof Karanja said that the then principal secretary in the ministry, Ms Betty Maina, pledged that the law would be implemented the following financial year.
Ms Maina proceeded to appoint the Scrap Metal Council (SMC) but its existence has not been felt as traders continue to export the products illegally and at will.
The SMC, Prof Karanja said, has been trying to speed up the licensing and registration of scrap metal dealers but none of the key provisions of the Act have been fully implemented.