Quality controls must always be beyond reproach

Biscuit factory workers checking quality of biscuits on conveyor belt. [Getty Images]

The revisiting of the contaminated sugar saga has brought into sharp focus the role played by standards and quality control agencies. The government must always protect its citizens from harmful products and services offered in the market. That is why citizens pay taxes and give powers to their leaders through the vote.

Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei has opened a can of worms on the 2018 sugar consignment that the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) condemned as unfit for human consumption. The agency, then ordered destruction of the sugar for allegedly containing mercury and other harmful impurities. But the sugar was not destroyed and it was irregularly released into the market.

And on Thursday, Mr Koskei said: "In recognition of the unique mandate of the agencies as the vanguards of public health and safety, it is manifest that some officers abdicated their responsibilities, at the risk of public harm."

And with that, some 27 public officials from 11 different state agencies were sent home for not following through destruction of the contaminated sugar. Majority of them were from Kebs and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). It is unfortunate that such action had to wait years and so much water under the bridge already.

Reports indicate that the consignment was ferried using an open air ship, exposing the product to other elements and weather. How could that happen under a responsible government and officials who care about the health of fellow Kenyans? The Kenya Kwanza administration should be commended for taking a decisive action even after a lengthy period.

The move should send a strong message to public officials that their acts of omission and commission will always catch up with them at one point in time. Once in office, they must always do what is right and protect Kenyans' lives at all cost. Should they be put in awkward situations by their seniors, they should always be ready to blow the whistle, quit or stand by their conscience.

Still, for ordinary Kenyans, they must always demand high levels of integrity and honesty from officials of such key bodies as Kebs, KRA, Nema and all those in quality management. The high turnover of leadership in such bodies should not compromise quality and standards.

For long, Kenyans have bought faulty vehicles because of lax regulations and non-compliance as Kebs and other officials look the other way. Inferior products are introduced into the market under the nose of state officials who get bribed with a few shillings.

In the past, condemned drugs have been allowed into the country by conniving inspection officers and sold to unsuspecting buyers. Different food items of low quality have found their way here, putting our own good products at unfair competition. Quality must never be sacrificed at the altar of corruption.