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Police, county askaris accused of extortion after plastic ban

Police and county askaris in parts of Nakuru and Nyandarua have been accused of extorting money from residents following the ban of plastic bags by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema).

This is despite a clarification by Nema on Tuesday that it had not sanctioned the arrest of people found with the prohibited polyethene bags.

By Tuesday, traders had not secured the recommended alternative packaging bags and were at loss on what to use.

At Engineer market in Kinangop, some officers raided the open air market where they arrested several women before releasing them in unclear circumstances.

“They pounced as I was opening my stall and demanded to search for the plastic bags. I had six of them packed with some personal items. I was arrested and taken around the town where some more traders were arrested," said Ms Faith Nyawira, a trader in the open air market.

She said those set free had to part with between Sh500 to Sh1000.

Similar incidents were reported at Njabini and Ndaragwa markets.

In Ol Kalou Town, county askaris faced similar accusations targeting small-scale traders and customers.

“They found a stock of 3kgs of maize flour packaged in plastic bags and some snacks and ordered me to close the shop and follow them. I negotiated with them before they left warning they will soon be back,” said James Mwangi, a kiosk operator in Ol Kalou Town.

He claimed that a number of his friends doing similar business had to part with some money for their release.

Raids

The askaris began raiding the kiosks, as well as targeting pedestrians as early as 6am.

County Environment Executive Committee Member Martin Kimani warned the county askaris against harassing members of the public or engaging in extortion.

“We have not received a Nema directive to make any arrests. When that is done, the operation will be conducted in a sober transparent manner and enforcement officers will have identification cards. The public should follow the law and avoid bribing any officer,” said Mr Kimani.

Butchers used old newspapers to wrap meat, saying they were still waiting for the recommended papers to arrive.

It was the same story in Nakuru with county askaris arresting a few traders who had packed their products in plastic bags.

The traders claimed ignorance saying they didn’t think the ban would be that serious as Kenyans are used to the last minute rush.

‘’You know we Kenyans like last minute reminders. I had forgotten that yesterday was the deadline for using plastic bags,” said Mr Njoroge Mwangi a trader in Nakuru.

Some customers found themselves carrying products wrapped in old newspapers and boxes while others used sacks.

“I am forced to wrap cloths bought by my customers in this old newspapers as I have no other choice left,” said Tabitha Waithera a second-hand clothes dealer.

Meat wrapping

Meat sellers in Nakuru protested, arguing that plastic bags are the best for wrapping the commodity.

They raised hygiene concerns on usage of biodegradable khaki bags.

They called on the public health department to offer guidelines on the quality of papers to be used for wrapping meat.

“We have been using the nylon bag for years because the other materials are not friendly. The material we are using currently sticks on meat,” they argued.

A spot check by Nation established that most small-scale traders in Nakuru’s Wakulima Market had not obtained alternative packaging materials.

Shop owners and supermarkets on the other hand complained of incurring major losses following the implementation of the ban.

The manager of Choppies Supermarket in Nakuru Town, Mr Peter Mukuri, said tens of students who had gone to shop for their back-to-school items left the shopping after they were informed there were no bags to pack some items.

“Students are critical customers because they are very concerned with image. Many of them who were here to shop for items when getting back to school left the items. Today alone we have had a lot of losses,” Mr Mukuri said.

Carton boxes

The manager added that they had settled on carton boxes they use when buying cooking oil and biscuits as the only option since they are yet to get an effective alternative.

Tuskys Supermarket Nakuru Town branch administrator, Ms Juliana Ndaruga, said they were using carton boxes and woven shopping bags which were being produced by the company to pack goods.

“Customers have to buy the woven bags but as for the carton boxes we are offering them for free, but many customers are [declining] the carton boxes,” she said.

The bags are sold between Sh5 and Sh10 depending on size and that they are being supplied from the headquarters in Nairobi.

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