The recent lifting of restrictions on the importation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) from Tanzania through the Namanga and the Lunga Lunga border points has potentially exposed Kenya to entry of dangerous cooking gas.
While the safety concerns that pushed Kenya to restrict the LPG import routes in June have not been addressed, last week’s lifting of the restrictions has seen lorry loads crossing from Tanzania into the country in large quantities, raising concerns of dangerous exposure for households and a possible revival of the black market that has endangered many unsuspecting consumers.
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A police source at the Namanga border point confirmed an increased transit of the commodity into Kenya, particularly at night without any proper checks on the quality or sometimes quantity of the commodity used by many households in most urban areas for cooking.
Kenya does not have a single gas testing facility in any of its border points where the LPG comes through, meaning the country cannot guarantee quality of the sensitive commodity.
Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau confirmed the fears that the country is badly exposed and is only relying on the “good will” of the traders who are bringing in the commodity in large consignments after three months of freeze.
“Right now there is no guarantee on the quality of LPG and we are relying on the good will of our neighbours.
“We can only assume that the traders are law abiding people and that Tanzania will ensure what we receive is of good quality,” Mr Kamau said.
Mr Kamau said the country is in the process of procuring two LPG testing facilities to be used at the Namanga and Lunga Lunga border points, through which Kenya receives more than 2,000 metric tonnes of cooking gas per month according to official data.
Kenya is also said to lack adequate quantity measuring apparatus at the crossings making it easy for under declarations of the LPG being imported through the routes, a huge regulatory headache in taming illegal LPG business.
The removal on import duty on LPG in a bid to lower the price of the commodity made its import an easy affair with not much scrutiny put on the incoming consignments without direct revenue loss concerns.
Although many incidents go unreported or are quickly suppressed by the guilty dealers, the Energy Regulatory Commission last year handled two cases of exploding cylinders in Nairobi.
The cooking gas involved in the incidents lacked Ethyl Mercaptan, a chemical that gives the commodity a smell to enable leakage detection by users.
In one of the incidents that occurred in Buruburu, a man sustained second degree burns after a cylinder he had allegedly bought from state-owned National Oil Corporation of Kenya leaked, causing fire when he tried to light it.
Isaac Irungu, who runs garbage collection business in Nairobi is now demanding Sh4.6 million from NOC for compensation over the incident where he has severally cited frustration by the state firm.
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The dangerous consignment, which came through the Namanga border, is said to be among the many others that were not traced that ended up in other parts of the country.
LPG without any smell, which is mostly traced to come from Zambia through the Kenya-Tanzania border, is said to have been the key reason why Kenya designated Mombasa as the sole entry point for LPG where the country has its testing facility.
The free flow of the questionable LPG comes at a time when Kenya is grappling with blocked commodities heading into Tanzania a week after the two countries signed a deal to lift the trade restrictions that have affected cross border trade between the two countries since January.
Tanzania is said to have continued with the blocking of milk and milk products, margarine and tiles from Kenya even after the traders paid all the relevant charges to the Tanzania Revenue Authority.
The country has also lined up numerous institutions to impose levies and carry out inspections on goods from Kenya, causing delays and adding costs of doing business for the traders who find it hard to compete in the Tanzanian market.
Each truck taking dairy products to Tanzania, for example, is required to pay Sh31,000 and an additional 0.2 per cent of the value of the commodity at the point of entry.
The exporters are also asked to pay Sh7 per litre as well as pay for a raft of permits including veterinary permits given by the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) under tough conditions.
TFDA even requires the milk products to be labelled in Kiswahili.
“The numerous fees demanded by various agencies in Tanzania increases cost of doing business and makes products from Kenya more expensive.
“Additionally, the process of making these payments is time consuming and laborious in that the collectors of the above levies are not based at the border but in Dar-es-Salaam.
“This causes delays, thereby increasing the cost of doing business,” manufacturers wrote in an elaborate highlight of the trade barriers between the two neighbours.
The challenge of illegal LPG sales, which is linked to the sourcing from Tanzania, had hit the peak last year, forcing the ERC to write to Inspector General of the police Joseph Boinnet expressing frustration that the plants were still running despite having been closed for being unlicensed.
“The commission has reliable information that some of the operators of these illegal LPG facilities have restarted cylinder filling by use of dangerous practices like filling LPG cylinders in the wee hours of the morning, which poses even bigger danger considering the insufficient emergency support during those hours.
“Consequently, the commission is of the view that the continued operation of these facilities poses a serious danger to both public safety and National Security,” the letter signed by then ERC Director General Joseph Ng’ang’a read.
Annexed to the letter were 26 plants operating illegally with six in Nairobi near residential areas in Embakasi and, Pipeline, Mombasa road and in Mlolongo exposing them to danger.