The controversy surrounding the contraband sugar deepened yesterday after the Ministry of Health confirmed that 60 per cent of the imported commodity seized in different parts of the country is contaminated.
Health Principal Secretary Peter Tum told the joint committee investigating the sugar crisis that the moisture content in the 174 samples tested on June 23 surpassed the 0.15 and 0.2 for per cent moisture content for brown and light brown sugar, respectively.
Accompanied by the Director of Public Health Kepha Ombacho, Tum revealed that they have written to both the National and County governments to ensure the seized sugar is not released adding that the highest consignment of the sugar came from Kiambu (two samples), Nakuru (15 samples) and Nairobi (54 samples) counties.
He, however, clarified that metal components such as copper, arsenic and lead contamination are within the required standards even as he clarified that tests for mercury components were still ongoing at the Government Chemist.
“Sixty per cent of the samples analysed did not comply with the government standards of moisture content of between 0.2 to 0.15 per cent for brown sugar and light brown sugar respectively making it unfit for human consumption,” he said.
Following the move, Tum told the committee the ministry has written to the respective agencies ordering for the destruction of all the contaminated sugar.
Tum, however, told the committee that tests done on June 29 for industrial sugar revealed that all the sugar is fit for use.
Ombacho told the committee that the contaminated sugar cannot be reprocessed to be used even by animals as the end product such as milk can be contaminated and have adverse effects on human beings.
“When we pick one parameter and we conclude with it and find it is contaminated, we don’t test the others but we conclude it needs to be destroyed as it is unfit for human consumption,” he said.
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) director general John Njiraini defended the authority saying it did not sleep on its job but ensured that all the necessary processes were followed.
The revelation by Tum came on the day Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) failed to explain whether the sugar brought into the country last year was raw sugar meant for industrial use or for human consumption.
Top officials had a hard time explaining to the joint committee investigating the sugar crisis whether all the brown sugar imported last year underwent testing and verification before it was allowed into the market.
Led by the Kebs acting managing director Dr Moses Ikiara and director in charge of quality and assurance Bernard Nguyo, the officials could not ascertain whether all the companies that imported bulk brown sugar meant for human consumption had it bagged in to 50kgs bags at the Port of Mombasa as required by law before it was transported.
The move came after Kebs told the committee that only four companies were allowed to import raw sugar yet documents from Treasury and Kebs indicated that more than 370 companies had imported brown sugar as duty had been removed on it.
The companies that Kebs said were cleared to import raw sugar include West Kenya Sugar Company Limited, Sukari Kenya limited, Amunav limited and Menengai Oil Refineries Limited.
However, this information contradicts a report the committee obtained from Kebs office after its recent field visits in Mombasa. The report notes that more than 370 companies imported brown sugar.
“If sugar documentation is not presented to Kebs, then it is not known to us. The Kenya Ports Authority public health is supposed to deal with that,” Ikiara said.
While defending their role, Nguyo told the committee there are checks and tests that are done to ensure all the sugar that enters the market is fit for human consumption.
According to him, raw sugar is not supposed to be exposed to the public as it is not only impossible to differentiate it with table sugar but this would amount to a criminal offence. “In respect to importation of brown sugar, whether white or brown, no law prohibits importation of such as our key concern is to ensure that all the conditions are met,” said Nguyo.