The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) on Thursday dismissed claims that it was using faulty weighing machines to exploit tea farmers in Kirinyaga County.
In a statement, the agency said the machines are validated every morning to ensure compliance with the applicable standards.
“We take seriously complaints from our farmers, including complaints of tampering with weighing scales. We wish to state that all weighing machines used at tea buying centres across all KTDA-managed factories are by law annually verified and stamped by the weights and measures department,” the Agency operations director Alfred Njagi said in the statement.
According to Mr Njagi, it is a criminal offence to tamper with the weighing equipment.
He warned that anyone found tampering with the weighing scales is liable for prosecution, aside from the agency’s internal disciplinary mechanisms.
He was responding to claims by a Member of Parliament that cartels in the agency use faulty weighing machines to steal from tea farmers.
The Gichugu MP, Gichimu Githinji, complained that tea farmers were losing many kilogrammes of tea delivered to various buying centres because the machines had been tampered with.
“The machines have been deliberately messed up to steal tea kilogrammes from farmers, this is unacceptable," he said.
He claimed that the cartels had illegally adjusted the machines to ensure 1.5kg of tea is deducted from all farmers each time they make deliveries.
Speaking at Kamugunda market in his constituency after delivering 180 machine testing weight kits for all tea buying centres, Mr Githinji vowed to protect farmers from further exploitation.
“What is happening in the region is corruption and it should be fought at whatever costs,” he added.
Accompanied by a senior official from the department of weights and measures James Maingi, the legislator noted that cases of illicit deduction of tea delivered by farmers were rampant in the region.
"Farmers complained to me that the machines had been interfered with and when I checked, I established that their complaints were genuine. The cartels at KTDA should be tamed,” he said.
Mr Maingi, however, admitted that the machines used by the KTDA sometimes gave wrong figures.
He said investigations have begun with a view to exposing the cartels.
“Those found to be interfering with tea weighing machines at the expense of farmers will be arrested and prosecuted,” said Mr Maingi.
He said such cases were common in Kisii but the government had arrested the situation there.
He assured farmers from Kirinyaga that he and his colleagues were committed to ensuring that all the tea they deliver is properly weighed and accounted for.
The farmers thanked the MP for his intervention.
"We have suffered much in the hands of KTDA and time has come for wrongdoers to be punished," said a farmer.
The farmers demanded compensation for the losses incurred over the years.