A labyrinth is a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one’s way. Thousands of Kenyans who have imported cars from Japan would agree that the process is indeed a labyrinth. I first experienced this labyrinth 30 years ago when I bumped into an opportunity to import cars from Japan.
In 1994 while on a business trip to Tokyo Japan, I met Chandra Kumar, a Pakistani national who ran a car business known asKSK Corporation. He persuaded me to purchase from him 12 cars. He mentioned that he had initially intended to sell those cars to a certain person in Kenya, who had challenges paying for them, leaving Mr. Kumar with no option but to sell them to me. After reviewing the documentation, I was convinced that this would be a good deal for me.
I returned home and persuaded the Hon. Kalonzo Musyoka together with his Partner and my friend Prof. Wambua Musili to guarantee me a loan from the Bank of Baroda to pay for the cars. The money was wired into the account of Mr. Kumar in Japan.He promptly sent the logbooks and the amended bills of lading to me. Upon reaching Mombasa Port to clear my cars, I found that eight of them had long been auctioned at the port due to late clearance. Of course, Kumar had disappeared in the thin air! Consequently, I ended up losing my father’s land since the bank had to recover its money.
In 2016, the Kenya Revenue Authority revealed that it was losing billions to cartels that had infiltrated the vehicle registration process. Five years later in 2021, the Kenyan office of Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) disclosed how Kenyan importers were losing billions of shillings through a fraudulent importation process. Shockingly, on May 12, 2023while in Japan I visited the Kenyan Embassy in Tokyo only to find how overwhelmed the team was with this worsening labyrinth of car importation.
But this runaway corruption is not a Japanese problem. In Japan, the sale of motor vehicles is strictly morally regulated. It only happens through four avenues: A deal between a willing individual who owns a car and is willing to sell to a buyer, a car dealer in Japan’s local market selling to an interested buyer, acar dealer buying from individuals in the local Japanese market and selling to auction houses, and auction houses sellingvehicles to only auction house accredited persons during a scheduled auction. Any other car purchases outside these four categories are done through brokers some of which are wild.
Japan’s auction system is so strict that the auction sheet or checklist clearly stipulates the genuine condition of each car based on a foolproof inspection procedure. This document is revered by car dealers as it helps them to negotiate for best prices during the auction. Unfortunately, once they purchase the cars, some dealers deliberately hide this document from their buyers to conceal serious vehicle damages which undermine pricing. Furthermore, wild dealers alter mileage readings and dishonorably mask the integrity of the car before they present it to pre-shipment inspection companies. Sadly, there is no strict requirement in Kenya as it is in some countries for an authenticated Odometer Integrity Inspection and authenticity Certificate.
Here is my suggestion on how to sort out this mess. Since about than 98% of the cars imported from Japan originate from auction houses, the Government should require that all car dealers attach an authentic translated auction sheet. Similarly, the odometer integrity certificate must be attached to the inspection documents and be made accessible to the end customer.
This is the only way to ensure quality, foolproof motor vehicle inspection for both the importer and exporter. Further, the measures will secure the vehicle import business, import tax revenue, roadworthiness of vehicles on our roads and ultimately, the lives of Kenyan motorists. Think green, act green!