Parliamentary investigations into how dirty sugar entered Kenya got under way on Monday, with a Cabinet secretary explaining how the sweetener might have been contaminated.
Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, who appeared before a joint sitting of the National Assembly’s Agriculture and Trade committees, said the sugar may have been contaminated in the high seas.
Some importers, he said, ferried the sweetener in open and dirty ships that had been used to transport fertiliser, coal and other poisonous materials
Aldai MP Cornelly Serem also tabled material showing how the imported sugar was mishandled in terms of storage, packaging and transportation.
Mr Serem claimed the sweetener was transported in open trucks and dumped on the ground, just like sand, at a godown in Webuye, Bungoma County.
The godown is linked to a prominent businessman who is under investigation.
Mr Kiunjuri, who was stopped from commenting on the contamination issue "because lies under Trade CS Adan Mohamed's docket", blamed the dumping of more than one billion kilos of the commodity into the Kenyan market on a gazette notice issued by the National Treasury in May 2017.
The notice, number 4536, he said, opened the window for anyone to import sugar duty-free.
The import authorisation, issued on May 12, 2017 and seen by the Nation, did not provide quality and quantity of the sugar to be imported, granting unscrupulous traders blank cheques in their quest for quick riches.
The notice did not specify the kind of sugar to be imported and by who— meaning that even those who are not licensed to do sugar business could venture into the lucrative trade.
The dubious notice reads: “It is notified for the general information of the public that in accordance with section 114 (2) of the East African Community Customs Management Act, 2004, and as a consequence of the declaration by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces through Executive Order No. 1 of 2017 that the drought and famine in parts of Kenya is a national disaster, duty shall not be payable for the following items: 1. Sugar imported by any person with effect from the date of this notice to the 31st August.”
And although the country has about 12 millers, more than 370 importers took advantage of the open gazette notice to flood the market.
Among the bad sugar imported into Kenya was some 350,000 metric tonnes that were raw and feared to contain mercury, copper and lead.
A huge chunk of the commodity, Mr Kiunjuri told MPs, was sourced from non-Comesa member states, especially Brazil.
Although millers are required to seek clearance from the Agriculture ministry, the CS said this did not happen, leading to flooding.
In other instances, he revealed, some firms that had been blacklisted from doing sugar business in Kenya by a report of the Agriculture committee of the last Parliament went ahead to import sugar.
"If anyone was blacklisted by Parliament but still went ahead to import, that's criminal and the law must take its course," he said.
This article was first published on the Daily Nation website.