The price of sugar in Kitui has gone up after the county government ordered the main distributor was to close his premises over health safety concerns.
A 50kg bag of sugar that used to sell at Sh5,400 five days ago is now selling at between Sh7,000 and Sh7,300, forcing retailers to increase prices significantly.
This follows the closure of Mt Kenya Wholesalers.
A kilo of sugar that was retailing at Sh120 last week is now selling at Sh170 after competitors withheld their sugar to create an artificial shortage and increase prices.
A spot check by the Nation established that prices of various other consumables in Kitui including cooking fat, detergents and flour have also gone up significantly.
According to Rachel Mwengi, a retail shop owner at Kalundu, some merchants who have been in competition with Mt Kenya Wholesalers have conspired to take advantage of his closure to hike prices as they seek to rake in huge profits.
“These are just trade wars. There is no shortage of sugar in the country but the people distributing it in Kitui are taking advantage of the county government’s action against Mt Kenya Wholesalers to exploit us,” she said.
Another businessman, Ahmed Noor, warned the county government against being used by some cartels in the distributorship business in trade wars and drive their competitors out of town.
Mr Noor urged consumer protection authorities to step in and rein in wayward traders saying the abrupt price manipulation amounts to defrauding innocent residents.
The proprietor of Mt Kenya Wholesalers, who was last month arrested over allegations of selling contaminated sugar, was ordered to close shop until he meets certain sanitation standards.
A notice of closure, signed by the County Chief Officer for Health Richard Muthoka, stated that the warehouse had failed to comply with the ministry's sanitation standards.
The notice indicated that the stores lacked proper ventilation for handling foodstuffs and had no toilets for workers.
The closure prompted the proprietor, Mr Simon Mwangi, to seek court redress but his petition was dismissed by Machakos High Court judge George Odunga on Thursday.
Mr Mwangi claimed in court that the closure of his warehouse was engineered by his business rivals in a desperate attempt to eliminate competition in Kitui.
"My store shares premises with a pharmacy, cosmetics store and a hospital in a building that is one year old but they singled out my business in what appears to be pure witch hunt," he claimed.
Justice Odunga threw out the case terming it as frivolous, lacking merit and a waste of court’s time.
Consumer Federation of Kenya Secretary-General Stephen Mutoro said traders taking advantage of the situation to manipulate prices and fleece their customers are in breach of various consumer protection laws and can be charged.