Drama ensued in Mwatate town in Taita Taveta county on Friday after angry traders nearly lynched a senior county revenue official over claims of harassment and intimidation.
Renson Mabaria, the head of the county revenue department, was forced to flee for dear life as dozens of small-scale traders pelted him with stones.
The traders said Mabaria and his officers have been engaging in a campaign of harassment and intimidation that has resulted to massive losses in businesses.
Several traders have also been arrested over allegations of possessing fake licenses.
Trouble started early Friday morning after traders stormed Mwatate Police Station demanding the unconditional release of a trader arrested on Thursday for operating a shop with a fake license.
After securing his release, the traders then marched to the revenue offices where they staged a fiery protest.
Mr. Mabaria arrived shortly afterwards sending the crowd into an angry frenzy.
His efforts to justify the crackdown on fake licenses fell on deaf ears as traders shouted him down.
When the charged traders started pelting him with stones, the revenue officer took to his heels and jumped into his official car and was whisked away to safety.
Speaking to KNA, Mr. Patrick Mwavula, a trader, said the county was unfairly demanding double payment from hapless traders who were issued with fake licenses by rogue revenue officers from the previous regime.
He stated that traders were innocent and should not be punished for sins of revenue officers who issued illegal licenses.
“No trader should be punished for possessing a fake license that was issued by the county revenue office. It is their problem,” he said.
Ms. Beatrice Mjomba, a trader, said traders found to be possessing fake licenses issued by the county should be allowed to operate without being forced to pay for new licenses.
She added those who have paid for new licenses should get a refund or be issued with next year’s permits.
“Innocent traders are being forced to pay twice for licenses in the same year. This is exploitation,” she said.
Mr. Hajji Mwakio, a human rights defender, said the county should streamline its revenue systems and deal with rogue officials without transferring the burden of additional charges to traders.
He added that those who issued the fake licenses were known and should be held accountable.
“The county should deal with its rogue officers and let the traders be. It is exploitation if you make them pay twice for errors of county officials,” he said.
County Executive Member for Trade Ms Getrude Shuwe said the county has in the last two months managed to raise over three million shillings from issuing new licenses to traders.
She added that most traders had voluntarily decided to apply for new licenses to comply with county directive.
“The operation is ongoing and we hope to ensure all businesses have valid licenses,” she said.
She added that the decision to issue new licenses to traders with fake ones was passed by the county executive and said any grievance could be addressed latter after paying.
She urged traders who were duped by revenue officers to report the matter to the police terming it as a criminal offense.
“We are pursuing those officers and some are on the run. We want traders conned to report to police to make it easier to prosecute them,” she said.
Taita-Taveta County has in the past three months launched a county-wide crackdown on businesses operating with fake licenses.
Scores of rogue revenue officers have been sacked and others charged for issuing our fake licenses to traders in the region.
At the same time, the county has demanded that all traders with bogus licenses must pay anew for legitimate licenses.
This has caused uproar from traders who want the cost of new licenses be met by officials who oversaw the issuance of the fake ones.
By Caroline Mghoi and Wagema Mwangi