Monday, May 30, 2011

Ministers sued over rising food and fuel prices

By PAUL JUMA [email protected]

A consumer lobby has sued the government over rising food and fuel prices.

The application filed at the High Court by the Consumer Federation of Kenya accuses the Finance and Energy ministers, Energy Regulatory Commission and National Oil Corporation of failing to ensure that Kenyans enjoy economic and social rights guaranteed under the new Constitution.

Citing the Bill of Rights, the lobby accuses the respondents of failing to stabilise and reduce high fuel prices thus violating consumers’ right to be free from hunger.

According to federation secretary Stephen Mutoro, the respondents are adequately paid from public funds to uphold the provisions of the Constitution in performing their duties.

In a sworn statement, Mr Mutoro told the court that the Finance Minister was duty-bound to formulate policies regarding petroleum energy prices.

“The high fuel prices have resulted in very high and unaffordable transport costs such as private, bus and matatu expenses,” the application, which is to be heard today before Lady Justice Jeanne Gacheche, says.

“They have also resulted in very high and unaffordable cost of basic commodities, including all household goods such as unga (flour), the staple diet of a majority of Kenyans,” it adds.

Article 43 of the Constitution guarantees various economic and social rights for every citizen, including “the right to be free from hunger; and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.”

The consumers’ lobby argued that Article 43 and 46, which protect the rights of consumers to “goods and services of reasonable quality”, were being undermined by the government.

The regulatory commission is being accused of controlling fuel prices in favour of petroleum companies, hence allowing them to reap maximum profits at the expense of consumers.

“That is discriminatory, against fair trade practices and reasonable competition, and is unconstitutional,” argued Mr Mutoro, adding that the commission had a legal duty to protect the interest of consumers, investors and other stakeholders while ensuring fair competition in the energy sector.

The federation wants the court to compel the ministers and the government agencies to take appropriate steps to stabilise and reduce high fuel prices to ensure that the rights and freedoms of citizens were not violated.

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