Agencies’ turf wars leave poor Kenyans at the mercy of crooks

An officer inspecting suspected contraband sugar at a warehouse belonging in Nakuru on June 19, 2018. (Kipsang Joseph, Standard)
Supremacy wars between government investigative and enforcement agencies have left Kenyans at the mercy of shrewd businessmen, whose untested products find their way onto the tables of unsuspecting Kenyans.

Uncoordinated operations, vested interests and a clash of egos at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), the police, the Cabinet as well as at a host of other enforcement agencies such as the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) have led to the passage, into the country, of substandard and potentially damaging goods.

And even in instances when products are impounded by one agency, another almost immediately rescinds the decision of the initial agency and releases the goods into the market, resulting in turf wars that have on more than one occasion led to protracted court cases.

In this whole mess, it is the Kenyan taxpayer who stands to lose the most, sometimes with devastating impact not only on their health, but on their financial well-being at a time of a shrinking economy.

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Central in what is turning out to be a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing is the Mombasa Port.

Last week, National Assembly watchdog committees were in Mombasa to investigate the release of Sh10 billion edible oil that was seized by a Multi-Agency Task Team (MATT).

The oil was impounded by the task team, which directed that it should be re-tested, before a directive was given by Trade Minister Peter Munya to release the oil into the market.

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DCI Director George Kinoti claimed that his office had been blindsided by other members of the MATT team who did things behind his back and deliberately kept the Kiambu Road agency out of the loop with regard to the edible oil saga.

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“Kenyans should be informed that the product released lacks Vitamin A which is a requisite requirement in importing it. I will not hesitate to invite the CS for questioning. The same will apply to other officials,” Kinoti said at the time.

A port visit by the National Assembly Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Committee revealed that 47 out of the 503-odd containers of the impounded oil had already been released to the importers. Currently, 55 containers of the same have already been cleared.

“It is the decision of a multi-agency committee to release the edible oil. It is not harmful to the public,” Munya said of the oil at a press conference, before going ahead to dismiss calls for an investigation into the matter by Kinoti.

The MATT is a government body, which reports directly to President Uhuru Kenyatta, composed of representatives from different government investigative and enforcement agencies from law enforcement, the Attorney General’s office and other legislative or enforcement State bodies such as KRA, Kebs and NEMA.

This was however not the first time that a back and forth between key members of the MATT and the inefficiencies have put the lives of Kenyans in danger. A catalogue of acrimonious interactions between members has ensured there is more for Kenyans to worry about.

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For instance, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) ignored an August 15 Ministry of Health advisory that warned of the possible toxicity of a container-full of ginger from Vietnam.

Although Public Health officials at the port directed that 23,000kg of the ginger be destroyed, the shipment was later released to the importer identified by shipping logs as Fairoil EPZ Limited.

“The ginger was not just dirty. It was also moist, moldy, was rotting and emitting a pungent smell upon a physical examination,” reads the inspection report. Yet it was still released to the public.

Sources told the Saturday Standard that there is a turf war going on at the port pitting state agencies against each other.

The tiff between the agencies, according to our sources, was exacerbated by a June 30 government directive on the clearance of cargo at the port, opening up the key installation to the influx of counterfeit goods into the country and presenting an opportunity for scrupulous importers to dodge import duty.

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Barely 10 days after the issuance of the new directive, thousands of bags of sugar impounded last year by a team from Kebs and KRA officials on suspicion of containing mercury and copper mysteriously disappeared from two guarded warehouses in Mombasa.

Stolen bags

To date, investigators from the DCI are yet to determine the exact number of stolen bags of sugar. The heist is estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 bags or between 270,000 and 450,000kg of sugar.

Worryingly, it has not been established yet whether the sugar has made its way to the under-policed distribution systems around the country.

The DCI has adopted a similar tone in yet another sensitive case that involved a directive by KRA late last year to release a batch of fertiliser whose moisture content and pH levels yielded different results from two separate tests – the initial test found it not fit for use with the second establishing that it met all the criteria.

Then there is the little matter of optics.

Last Saturday, at the funeral of benga star John De’Mathew, President Uhuru Kenyatta once again vowed to end corruption that has been the monkey on his administration’s shoulder since he took office in 2013.

“The culture of unbridled corruption will end, I will continue pursuing the corrupt. I have been telling them that I am not seeking votes anymore, they have to return public money,” the President said, switching to his native tongue, Kikuyu.

“I don’t have a friend when it comes to fighting corruption. My friends are the people of Kenya.”

Perhaps as his only legacy, the president seems headstrong at dismantling the corruption cartels that have held his and past governments hostage.

“Because of this, investigative agencies have in the recent past been falling over themselves to look like they are helping the president win this war, sometimes bungling investigations along the way and jeopardising investigations by sister agencies,” says political analyst Herman Manyora.

“Everyone wants to look like they are working.”

But as agencies try to appear busy, a lot of things are falling through the cracks. And in the confusion and infighting there can only be one group of beneficiaries -- the corrupt.

And there can only be one group of losers -- the millions of Kenyans whose interests ought to be put before inter-agency wars and egos of those heading government institutions.

[Additional reporting by Willis Oketch]

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HealthDirector of Public ProsecutionsKenya Revenue AuthorityKRAMombasa Port