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Probe: Treasury in a spot over suspect sugar haul

By Standard Team | June 28th 2018
National Assembly Joint Committee for Agriculture and Trade during the inspection of sugar depots in Nakuru. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

MPs have launched inspections in Nakuru, Mombasa and Bungoma to unearth the truth about the controversial sugar importation.

During the inspection in Nakuru yesterday, the National Assembly Joint Committee for Agriculture and Trade found that companies registered to conduct other types of businesses unrelated to sugar were allowed to import the product, paving way for unsafe supplies to gain access to the market.

Rongai MP Raymond Moi said only sugar millers should have been allowed to take advantage of the three-month importation window last year to ensure that responsibility on the safety of products in the market could be easily tracked.

“Treasury has to admit that they made a mistake to allow companies, some which were dealing with non-food items, to import sugar. The country is now flooded with sugar whose quality and safety is in question,” said Raymond.

Among the go-downs the committee visited in Nakuru were two owned by Nakuru Blankets, but leased by Menengai Oil Refineries to store 512,000 bags of sugar imported from Swaziland. The brown sugar packed in 50-kilogramme bags was marked “NOT FOR SALE.”

The committee noted that many Kenyans could not tell the difference between processed and unprocessed sugar.

“Physical observation shows no difference between the unprocessed sugar and that in the market labeled as brown sugar,” said the committee’s vice chair Emmanuel Wangwe.

More than 8,000 tonnes of processed sugar imported from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Thailand were found at a Menengai Oil Refineries warehouse.

Storage conditions

Although the sugar was ready for consumption, the MPs faulted the condition in which it was stored. Packets of sugar branded Kabras and Ndhiwa Sugar were also found.

At a warehouse owned by United Millers Limited, the committee found 1,500 tonnes of brown processed sugar imported from Mauritius four weeks ago.

The company’s General Manager Keith Cannon said the firm had not started selling the supply due to logistics with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

“We were not aware of some requirements by KEBS when we imported the sugar. We have, however, reached out to them for approval before we can start selling to the market,” said Mr Cannon.

At the West Kenya Sugar Company, Trade, Industrialisation and Cooperatives Committee vice chairman Coloney Serem took the firm to task on the quality of the commodity it imported.

According to the team, the firm was not licensed to import and process raw sugar.

Mr Serem said a report from the Sugar Directorate presented in Parliament showed that only Kibos Sugar Company in Kisumu was allowed to process raw sugar.

Mr Serem, accompanied by Kabuchai MP James Mukwe, wondered why the company imported the commodity yet it had no capacity to process it.

“We need documentation to show that you are allowed to do so,” Serem challenged the management.

The miller’s officials, however, said it was their first time to import raw sugar and process it and that this was in line with a Gazette notice that allowed the importation.

The committee faulted the company for storing their sugar with Rai Paper Factory, which was not licensed by Kebs to handle the product.

In Mombasa, the committee was taken through the process of handling imported sugar after ships carrying it dock.

In one of their site visits, the legislators were surprised to find out that a firm that the Government had blacklisted and not allowed to conduct sugar business was back in business.

“This firm was blacklisted, we do not know how it acquired an importers licence,” said Adan.

The firm, which is holding 300,000 bags of brown sugar imported from Brazil and Egypt, owns one of the 17 go-downs that are under seal by the National Police Service (NPS) as investigations in whether sugar being held in them is contaminated.

[Reports by Kennedy Gachuhi, Raphael Wanjala and Phillip Mwakio]

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