Kebs, KRA in blame game over disappearance of condemned sugar

Some of the contaminated sugar that was destroyed in 2018. [File, Standard]

Kenya National Bureau of Standards (Kebs) is now blaming Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) over the disappearance of one million kilograms of condemned sugar earlier this year.

In what is snowballing into an inter-agency war, Kebs on Thursday moved to absolve itself from blame and implicated KRA after tabling evidence before a parliamentary committee, showing that the condemned sugar was under the supervision of the taxman- at the Vinepack Industries warehouse in Thika- before it disappeared.

Kebs acting Managing Director Esther Ngari appeared before the Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Committee where she gave a blow by blow account of events leading up to the disappearance of the 20,000 bags of sugar of 50kg each.

The MD also explained that after learning of the disappearance of the sugar, Kebs sanctioned a countrywide market surveillance activity which is still ongoing to remove the contaminated sugar from the market.

"...the consignment in the go-down was sealed off again by the enforcement arm of KRA (Intelligence and Strategic Operations). The consignment was under the custody of ISO and Vine pack," read a report tabled by Kebs.

The standards body has so far seized 52 tons of sugar from more than 300 outlets across the country.

"This is what we have considered as potentially unsafe, so it has been seized, isolated and the decision to destroy will be made once testing is complete," said Ms Ngari.

The committee which is on a fact finding mission has now summoned KRA and the Trade Cabinet Secretary to appear before it next week.

Ngari told the committee that after the sugar arrived at the port of Mombasa in 2018, the consignment was rejected due to non-compliance with the requirements of the standard in regard to labelling where the date of manufacture and expire were not indicated.

"Kebs indicated that the consignment be re-shipped or destroyed at owner's cost. Letters to this effect were done and the National Environmental Authority notified to supervise the destruction," she said.

Consequently, the consignee of the cargo, Merako investments Limited, approved for the destruction of the sugar and appointed Galgamesh Enterprise to undertake the same on its behalf. Galgamesh Enterprise would later submit a request to Kebs to destroy the sugar by allowing it to be used for alternative use/conversion into ethanol for industrial use.

Kebs later wrote to KRA informing it that it had no objection to the request by Galgamesh and another company -Assets and Cargo Ltd - for the alternative use of the same sugar consignment.

Ngari explained that the process was later taken up by a multi-agency team including KRA and the Directorate of Criminal Investigation. It is through discussions at the multi-agency team and the involvement of the Attorney General that it was agreed that the sugar be destroyed through conversion to ethanol.

The sugar was later released by Kebs to the multi-agency team and transported to Thika for distillation at Vine Pack Industries.

"The consignment was received in Thika by the Nairobi MAT where they witnessed the removal of the seals and offloading into go-downs contracted by the distiller- Vinepack on April 20,2023," stated Ngari.

After storage, she said, KRA's customs departments appended seals on the storage unit.

The Embakasi North MP James Gakuya-led committee heard that 10 days after the sugar was placed in the go-downs, they got word from a whistle blower that it had gone missing and made its way into the market.

"We immediately sent a team to vine pack industry and upon arrival it found the go- down closed with two seals and a padlock. We broke the seals and opened it only to find that it was empty," added the acting managing director.

She also revealed that Kebs discovered that the seals on the go-down had been changed and were not the original ones used, raising eyebrows.

The committee however sought to know whether indeed Kebs did due diligence in establishing that indeed the sugar made it to Thika and why despite the sugar being condemned in 2018, it was only reported missing in 2023.

It further sought to know measures that had been put in place to recover the sugar.

"The process of the sugar moving from Mombasa to the warehouse in Thika is what is under investigation but from the report I have, the sugar made it to the go-down at Vinpack Industries," said Ngari.

Tough economic times cuts SME led agency banking transactions
Fund managers net Sh10b in 3 months as Kenyans spread risk
Uncover successfully closes Sh180m seed funding round
How drones are taking over disaster frontlines, key sectors