Mercy Mwai and Anthony Mwangi
The contraband sugar imports could claim its first prominent casualties, with two serving Cabinet secretaries—Henry Rotich (National Treasury) and Adan Mohammed (East African Community)—being indicted by a joint House committee.
Mohammed was CS for Trade before swapping docket with Peter Munya. The other top government official named by the committee co-chaired by Kanini Kega (Kieni) and Adan Mohammed (Mandera South) is former Agriculture CS and current high commissioner to India Willy Bett.
The censure came after heightened drama earlier in the day over allegations of spirited attempts to doctor the final report to shield some individuals by the team that has been investigating the importation of contraband sugar said to be contaminated with deadly lead, copper and mercury.
However, it emerged yesterday that some members were planning to introduce amendments to the report, to remove names of the CSs.
The committee was divided down the middle over who should shoulder the blame with some vehemently demanding the removal of the name of a CS from the report.
And MPs from the Western region held a closed-door meeting to chart the way forward, insisting the report did not address the issues affecting the sugar-growing belt.
In the report, tabled in the House yesterday, the committee wants Rotich investigated to ascertain how he issued gazette notice that allowed unrestricted importation of sugar while Bett should be investigated to determine circumstances under which he recommended waiver of duty for 14 companies that subsequently imported sugar long after the free duty window had closed.
The committee on the other hand wants CS Mohammed investigated to establish the circumstances under which the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), under Trade ministry, failed to undertake market surveillance to guarantee safety and quality of sugar in the country.
“The Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) should conduct further investigations into all irregularities relating to the importation of sugar,” it recommends.
Consequently, the committee has recommended that all the sugar that did not comply with the set standards and hence unfit for consumption be destroyed within 21 days after the report is adopted by the House.
In addition, the committee also wants the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to recover duty payable on all sugar imported between September 1 and October 3 last year as the importers benefited as a result of retrospective application of the law.
It also wants Kebs to undertake a review of its existing standards for sugar importation to ensure all imported sugar imported is tested for presence of heavy metals prior to issuance of pre-verification of export certificates and certificates of conformity from the country of origin.
In particular, the committee wants the investigating agencies to investigate why the University of Nairobi and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) were obstructed from validating tests from the Government Chemist which had confirmed the presence of mercury at Moi Airbase Eastleigh and Webuye West in Bungoma.
In findings submitted by the Government Chemist, two samples tested positive for mercury—Moi Airbase, Eastleigh at 0.1141 parts per million (ppm) and Webuye West.
The recommendations came even as it emerged the inclusion of the presence of mercury in the report almost scuttled the committee after some members insisted the information (on mercury) should be included while others stridently objected to it.
Sources who did not want to be named revealed that Tuesday’s session which was singularly heated at one point saw all the 36 committee members walk out on two co-chairs whom they claimed had refused to include mercury report in the final document.
It is understood the chairs had no option but to include the mercury test bit after members threatened to table a dissenting report.
A member who did not want to be named said: “All of us walked out on the two chairs. We were firm that they had to mention that there was mercury in the sugar”.
It was understood that following the divisions between the members on Tuesday, the committee was forced to convene a crisis meeting on Wednesday after the two chairs gave in to their demands.