The Trade and Industrialisation ministry sparked an uproar a few months ago when it announced plans to get rid of old motor vehicles.
Dealers in imported second-hand vehicles and the general public were up in arms, ostensibly because the move threatened to raise the purchase price of vehicles and lock out many people from owing one. The matter has not been resolved.
Now, the Kenya Bureau of Standards has issued a notice to ban importation of 17 categories of second-hand vehicle spare parts.
This is part of the overarching National Automotive Policy, whose objective is to ban importation of vehicles that are more than five years old. At present, the rule caps the age at eight years.
Underpinning the rule is the desire to eliminate old vehicles, which have saturated the market, pollute the environment and stifle local vehicle production.
Arguments against second-hand vehicles are quite valid. Kenya needs to develop capacity to manufacture vehicles and parts.
This has spin-offs such as creating jobs, extending businesses through the supply chain and protecting the environment when the market operates only new vehicles.
Importation of second-hand vehicles and, for that matter, other commodities, turns a country into a dumping ground and, among others, comes at an environmental cost.
As a country seeking to industrialise, that is not a situation we can countenance. However, the reality on the ground is that Kenya lacks capacity to produce vehicles for the mass market and at affordable prices.
Locking out citizens from owning cars because of high costs is disastrous.
Second-hand vehicles have created business opportunities not just for dealers and suppliers and spare parts traders but the ordinary citizen.
The bulk of the taxis on our roads, public transport vehicles and private cars are second-hand imports.
It’s instructive that liberalisation of the markets in the early 1990s opened up opportunities for car imports and, in turn, created several lines of business, all contributing to the national economy.
Creating restricting policies that stifle that growth is counter-intuitive.
Equally, new policies must be subjected to public debate, and this is where the players such as car dealers and consumer representatives must be engaged.
As we have argued before, the debate over imports of second-hand vehicles, and now spare parts, must be informed by market realities.
There is merit in creating regulations and protecting the local market, but that must be weighed against the impact.
To the extent that the policy hurts businesses and adversely affects citizens, it has to be shelved. And when it is agreed that the tough regulations should be implemented, it must be gradual to allow smooth transition.