Kenya is importing new machines to scan passengers at its airports in an effort to alleviate the pain caused by the taxman while ransacking bags in order to collect more taxes.
This was revealed on a dramatic day in which two Cabinet Secretaries held separate press briefings on Tuesday to address public outrage over the growing harassment of passengers arriving in the country by Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials.
Roads and Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen convened the first multi-agency meeting at the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) offices at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to discuss how to improve service delivery.
“We have agreed after a lengthy discussion that we must establish an airport charter that brings together immigration, police, port health and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), KAA and sign it by the end of this month,” said CS Murkomen.
“I am happy to announce we have also resolved the Greenfield terminal dispute. The place is free for us to go to the market and ask private investors [for funds] so we can partner under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model.”
The charter will establish a governing council, chaired by KAA’s managing director (MD), to oversee airport operations.
“There has been this blame game at the airport where if something happens with the customs, the KAA says it wasn’t us, it was the customs department and when it’s the police they shift blame to the police department, we want to cut that out and have the airport operate as one unit,” said CS Murkomen.
Mr Murkomen stated that JKIA and other airports in the country have been operating without a charter and that one must be signed by the end of this month to ensure better service delivery at the points of entry.
The KRA directive to tax personal or household items worth $500 (about Sh75,000) or more by tourists visiting the country, whether new or used, has not gone down well with visitors or local travellers.
The taxman is accused of abusing the directive to harass tourists, resulting in negative publicity for the country.
Tourism and Wildlife CS Alfred Mutua, for his part, held a separate media tour, accompanied by top KRA officials including Commissioner General Mr Humphrey Wattanga Mulongo, as he welcomed new arrivals from New York.
“We want to assure our visitors that when you come to Kenya, you will not be harassed nor will your bags be opened unless necessary and the KRA has the mandate to be the last point of contact with visitors,” said Mutua.
“If you’re bringing prohibited goods, or restricted goods, like drugs, guns or drones among others, some of these will require a permit.”
“If you’re coming in with items that should be taxable to sell them, then you will need to pay taxes and the process is clear, the bag is scanned from outside before you board and before you exit.”
Mr Wattanga stated that the KRA’s mission is to ensure that passengers are treated with dignity and respect, and that their belongings are handled with grace.
Reforms at the KAA began three months ago with new management with the goal of improving service delivery.
Visitors to the JKIA are required to disembark from their vehicles during the first round of screening, a problem that Kenyans have raised on various social media platforms, resulting in long lines and delays.
“We will deploy technology to facilitate self-checking by passengers to speed up movement,” said CS Murkomen.
“On the advanced passenger information system we are working on a PPP model and within the next six or eight months we will make progress on the existing equipment like scanners, we will enhance them by purchasing more and we hope it can be done by the end of this year.”
Other reforms include requiring parking companies to increase the number of exit and entry booths, deploying an Advance Passenger Information (APS) system to provide prior information about passengers for greater efficiency, canopies at airports to protect passengers from rain, and standardised prices for goods and food quality at eateries.