Mystery of Kebs staff being flown to Mombasa to release sugar they had blocked

Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) employees responsible for impounding imported sugar in recent crackdown have been flying back to Mombasa to release the same commodity they had blocked.

A source at the standards agency told Sunday Standard his colleagues have been coerced and flown quietly to Mombasa to lift the sanctions under mysterious circumstances.

The sugar, he says, has been trickling into the country after attention shifted to other issues and his bosses were charged in court. “If you are the one who inspected a cargo and stopped it from coming in, that cargo cannot get in without your signature releasing it. That is why they have been flying specific individuals whose signatures were on the documents to go back and lift it,” the source said, adding that some had underestimated the pressure that would come after their initial actions.

The Sunday Standard visited the Kebs headquarters this week to seek audience with the acting MD on these allegations but he was not in his office and was said to be in a meeting within the premises. We left our contacts with his secretary requesting him to get back to us but he had not done so by the time of going to press. It is not clear who owners of the sugar are, or the forces pressuring individual officers to lift the blockade.

But the revelations now make nonsense of government efforts to crack down on the illicit sugar that had flooded the country last year during the duty free import window. Kebs allows millers to bring in sugar, reprocess it and repackage it in line with local standards. But a number of unscrupulous dealers brought the commodity in bulk, selling it directly to consumers without reprocessing it. Importers were allowed to bring in sugar alongside maize and milk powder as part of the government’s efforts to keep prices low during last year’s drought.

Between May 12 and August 31, 2017, importers with financial muscle had a free hand to bring in copious amounts of sugar.     

More than 100 companies made 691 import orders cumulatively. A report tabled in Parliament showed that many companies, even those not in the business of trading, chose to import their own sugar.

The report shows that even China Road and Bridge Corporation, which is building the standard gauge railway, imported sugar. Other large importers include Menengai Oil Refineries, an edible oils and soaps firm associated with the Rai family as well as Hydery (P) Ltd, a firm associated with the Merali family based in Mombasa.

Other importers included Naval Logistics US army, Mshale Commodities, Inexcess Limited, Mumias Distributors, Somo Commodities, Sanjose Agencues, Imperial Commodities Limited, Sukari Investments and African Retail Traders among others.

There was no evidence that any of these companies broke any laws. In just three months, more than 400,000 metric tonnes of sugar worth Sh4 billion had landed on the Kenyan shores.