For the last three years, the Laikipia County government has been supporting a local start-up, Sagak Tech Enterprises, to venture into mass production of four-wheeler tuk-tuk with an eye on the Sh27 billion Central Kenya Region Economic Bloc (Cereb) market.
Despite enlisting the partnership of Dedan Kimathi University of Technology (DeKUT) engineers and other relevant regulatory and standards agencies, it took months of exchanging correspondences, and hours of phone calls lobbying for motor vehicle christened BJ-50 to get the approval of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and registration by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).
In one of the correspondences to Sagak Tech chief operations officer Wollace Kariuki, NTSA director general George Njao laid bare the legal and regulatory hurdles that have, for ages, been frustrating local manufacturing in favour of imports.
“We wish to inform you that the Authority has given your request due consideration. However, according to our Transport Integrated Management System (TIMS), registration of any motor vehicle requires that KRA Customs Entry maps in TIMS before the applicant lodges the chassis for registration,” said a letter dated July 23, 2020.
Apparently, the country’s law and regulation never envisaged local production of vehicles such as the Laikipia BJ-50 tuk tuk.
According to another letter dated June 12, 2020 from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Mr Kariuki, registration of the locally manufactured tuk-tuks does not fall under their purview.
“We have received your request and wish to point that registration of the BJ-50 as it is currently, falls outside the purview of Customs since Customs only regulates international trade,” the letter signed by a Joan Omole read.
The BJ-50 tuk-tuk, manufactured at the Nyahururu-based firm, acquired number plates on October 27, 2020 after intervention from the county government.
“When the TIMS was being put into place, nobody thought that we could actually manufacture tuk-tuks or even motor vehicles domestically. I wonder whether the local innovator would have succeeded on his own with the current systems in place,” Governor Ndiritu Muriithi said.
“We encountered lots of challenges when trying to get number plates for the Laikipia BJ-50. Most of the rules were created during the colonial times, and that is why it is sometimes incredibly impossible for small businesses to thrive,” Mr Muriithi said.
The devolved unit has placed an order to buy 36 BJ-50 as a way of boosting the local innovation.
Mr Kariuki, who is also a member of Laikipia County Development Board (LCDB), said the locally manufactured and assembled cars will help in streamlining the delivery of services to citizens.
He said all the eight county departments - trade, agriculture, health, administration, education, finance, infrastructure and Water - have placed their orders for the units in order to easily reach to the public.
The county intends to purchase six units whose manufacturing and assembly has currently been finalised by the firm.