How time killed quest to cushion local millers from tax-free sugar

40 tonnes of relief food from Kuwait was brought in by Kuwait Airforce plane at JKIA. The foods include rice, sugar, cooking oil, salt, milk and dates. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Time has killed a bid to cushion the struggling sugar industry from the onslaught by importers shipping duty-free sugar in the country.

This follows the High Court’s rejection of a plan to lock out duty-free sugar imports.

In a court battle meant to protect the local industry, High Court judge Hedwig Ong'udi declared that the case had been thrown out due to time-lapse.

In the case, Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah argued that the government’s waiver dated October 4, 2017, allowing the importation of duty-free sugar by local millers was unfair and illegal for lack of consultation.

The judge also said Omtatah failed to include all individuals who imported sugar during the 2017 window. According to him, the notice was meant to cover a vessel that was already at the port of Mombasa.

"From the detailed response by the respondent, it is clear that a good number of Kenyans made use of the directions contained in the impugned gazette notice, and imported sugar which is no longer in the market.

"The petition has been overtaken by events. Any orders issued will not be affected by the circumstances. Having found that the petition is moot it would be immaterial considering the other issues raised in the petition,” said Justice Ong’udi. The court heard that duties imposed on sugar are intended to protect the struggling local industry from sugar produced cheaply elsewhere. Omtatah said the revenue generated from taxes collected ought to assist Kenyans to have a better life.

He said allowing the importation of duty-free sugar would complicate matters for the hundreds of thousands of sugarcane farmers and workers in local sugar factories. The senator, in his case against the Treasury Cabinet Secretary, further stated that there was no sugar shortage to warrant allowing duty-free sugar import.

The government did not set a limit on how much sugar was to be brought into the country, he added.

But Treasury PS Julius Muia said the directive to import sugar, milk, and maize was a result of a prolonged drought. Dr Muia said in late April and early May 2017, milk and sugar and sugar prices shot up.

Subsequently, various meetings were held and it was decided that sugar and milk powder were in short supply and would be imported duty-free to increase their availability and reduce prices.