The recently formed Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade clique sounds like it could have been a WhatsApp group. In last Friday’s Kenya Gazette, the Minister at the time announced the establishment and appointment of both an Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade Executive Forum (23 members in total) and an Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade Technical Working Group (24 members in total). The Executive Forum and Technical Working Group are apparently expected to deliver on the President’s Big 4 Agenda pillar of enhancing manufacturing so that the sector contributes 15% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 9.2% in 2016.
The above pictured membership of the Executive Forum reads like a bloated checklist rather than lean, mean decision-making public and private sector entities perfectly capable of working independently and interdependently without needing such a forum as an excuse. In light of the terms below, one wonders why a standing forum was deemed necessary as opposed to case-by-case high-level consultations among the concerned stakeholders.
One may ask whether these are the makings of a soon-to-be established state corporation on anti-illicit trade or an interim step in the push for a revamped Anti-Counterfeit Agency with an expanded anti-illicit trade mandate. So, perhaps this Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade thingamajig is the lesser of two evils.
Meanwhile, the Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade Technical Working Group, which as the name suggests, bears the primary responsibility of making the Executive Forum look good, has been saddled with Terms of Reference that reads like a wishlist for a anti-illicit trade-free Kenya which presupposes the non-existence of a handful of public offices and state corporations charged with this very exact mandate in their respective domains.
The central problem is clear: there are multiple Ministries, Departments and State Agencies simultaneously tackling various dimensions of the fight against illicit trade without any clear co-ordination, communication and co-operation. What remains to be seen is whether this new Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade approach will provide a lasting solution to this problem.
On a point of clarification, the Gazette Notice in question refers to the exercise of powers conferred by section 5(2) of the Anti-Counterfeit Act, 2018 as the basis for the Inter-Agency Anti-Illicit Trade Executive Forum and Technical Working Group. However, at the time of the notice, no such law appears to exist unless perhaps this is a typo pointing to the fact that the controversial amendments to the Anti-Counterfeit Act have already been enacted but are not yet public.
Finally, the tone of this blogpost is purposely intended to convey two intertwined messages: first, we remain cautiously optimistic of any initiatives that appear to be more of talking the talk than walking the walk. Second and perhaps more importantly, we will be watching you – vigilant and hawk-eyed – in the weeks and months ahead.