Kenya's regional trade threat 'killed' the sugar report

Contraband sugar found hidden in warehouses in Eastleigh, Ruiru and Nairobi’s Industrial Area is withheld at CID headquarters on Wednesday June 13 2018. [David Njaaga,Standard]

Kenya’s export sector would have been hit hard if Parliament approved a report on contaminated sugar in the market, it has emerged.

The National Assembly last week rejected the report of a joint House committee amid claims some MPs were bribed by various interest groups.

A State official told The Standard that the Government was concerned about the signal an official report detailing how contaminated sugar was sold in Kenya would send to the regional market given 70 per cent of processed products have sugar.

It would have complicated the situation with Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) members, who had officially protested to Kenya over the unregulated duty-free sugar imports coming from outside the bloc.

The official said such a damning report would also have alarmed the East African Community - a key market for the country’s confectionery products. These are highly processed foods that are high in sugar and fat.

“This report was going to be injurious to the country’s economy in relations to the EAC bloc and Comesa. Our exports, which are processed commodities like yoghurt, and others have sugar and would suffer,” he said.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i led a multi-agency crackdown on sugar suspected to be contraband after Uganda and Tanzania slapped sweets, chocolates and ice-cream from Kenya with a 25 per cent levy.

The two countries argued that some confectionery goods might have been made using sugar that was suspected to contain mercury.

“There were fears that any insinuation by a Government report of traces of the poisonous substance would hurt the country. A powerful office intervened, that is how the Government Chemist escaped the probe,” the official said.

Not coincidence

“It was not a coincidence that the Government Chemist, despite tabling a report collaborating Dr Matiang’i’s claim, failed to appear before the joint committee of Agriculture and Trade as well as the multi-agency task force.”

“The Government Chemist was ordered to go back,” said another source, without explaining where the order came from.

He was referring to the complaints by MPs that the Government Chemist vanished from the precincts of Parliament where he had been expected to testify, reportedly on orders from powerful figures.

The Government Chemist report suggested traces of mercury had been found in sugar samples seized in Nairobi and Bungoma counties.

 

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