The chairman of the joint parliamentary committee investigating the presence of contraband sugar in the country, Kieni MP Kanini Kega, is on the spot after Interior Minister Dr Fred Matiang’i denied being invited to appear before the MPs on Thursday.
Dr Matiang’i maintained that he was never invited by the committee to appear before it on the material day, contradicting Mr Kega who had told his colleagues that the Interior CS had expressed willingness to appear before them.
According to Mr Kega, the CS was to appear before the committee in the company of the Chief Government Chemist, Mr Ali Gakweli, to shed more light on a controversial report prepared by the latter and confirming the presence of mercury in sugar imported into the country. He then scheduled the meeting for 3pm on Thursday.
However, speaking to Nation on Friday, Dr Matiang’i accused the committee of mischief, saying he was neither invited nor had he expressed intention to appear before the MPs as alleged by the chair.
“There is no letter inviting me to appear before the committee yesterday, neither did I express any wish to appear before them. I have already appeared before the committee and told them whatever I wanted to say, I was not going to say anything different yesterday. They should stop playing games and give Kenyans the report they are waiting for,” said Dr Matiang’i.
Contacted yesterday, Mr Kega changed tune, saying the committee had never invited the CS, instead accusing the media of putting words in his mouth.
“We never invited the CS because the committee has no interest in him. It is you Nation that invited him,” charged Mr Kega. He said they were interested in the Government Chemist as it is the government agency that had conducted the analysis.
The committee’s conduct has thrust it on the spotlight with concerns being raised as to whether it will achieve anything. There are fears that it is working to shield the perpetrators.
In the midst of these concerns is the report of the Government Chemist on the analysis of the sugar in the market and which has split the committee right down the middle.
The sugar samples submitted to the Government Chemist established that the commodity is contaminated with among others, mercury.
Members of the committee are split on the report, with a section insisting that its contents be part of the final report which is due to be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.
The co-chairs, Mr Kega of Trade and Investments and Mr Adan Haji Ali of Agriculture and Livestock committees, are both said to be uncomfortable with the report and are reluctant to include its findings in the final report.
Suspicions have been heightened by reports that Mr Gakweli was within the precincts of Parliament on Wednesday ready to shed light on the report but was turned away by a faction within the committee.
Saturday Nation has obtained back-and-forth correspondences between the Interior Ministry and the Committee over Mr Gakweli’s appearance, suggesting that Mr Kega could have misinterpreted a letter from Principal Secretary, Karanja Kibicho.
In the letter, Mr Kibicho had accused the committee of a breach of protocol in its decision to invite the Government Chemist. The committee had directly invited Mr Gakweli to shed light on his report which was submitted to the committee by the Ministry of Health.
The report was delivered to the committee by the Ministry of Health through the Director of Public Health, Dr Kepha Ombacho, who owned the document but the committee was not satisfied and doubted its authenticity.
However, come Wednesday, Mr Kibicho wrote to the committee reminding it that the department had been moved from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Interior through the Executive Order No 1 of 2018.
“In consideration of procedure of protocol, our expectation is that issues touching on the Government Chemist, like any other department in the Ministry should be handled by the CS. This is the norm in all our engagements,” Dr Kibicho wrote to the Clerk of National Assembly Michael Sialai on Wednesday.
In his reply on the same day, Mr Sialai defended the committee pointing out that the invitation letter to the Government Chemist was made on the understanding that the PS and other technical staff are best placed to handle issues of technical nature, unless committees require the personal attendance of the CS.
Speaking to Nation, a member of the committee who sought anonymity for fear of breaching parliamentary rules about “taking debate outside the house” accused the leadership of the committee of working against the interests of the team.
“The two are being remote controlled to defeat the purpose of this committee. We are suspecting money could have exchanged hands,” he said.