Goods that are unfit for human consumption have been allowed to flood the market with the connivance of Kenya Bureau of Standards officials working in cahoots with traders, putting the lives of millions of Kenyans at great risk.
Although scientists at Kebs have been flagging these goods, which include fruit juice, cooking fat, biscuits, and contraband sugar, they have been consistently overruled by cartels and senior officials who facilitate the issuance of mark-of-quality stickers.
A syndicate operating within the Kebs compound oversees the printing of the fake stickers by Madras Security Printers Private Limited, an Indian company contracted by the government to produce all mark-of-quality labels. The fake stickers are then used by smugglers and counterfeiters.
As a result, when bodies such as Kenya Association of Manufacturers complain about the flooding of the market with counterfeits, their concerns are often not addressed as the institution supposed to ensure standards and quality has been overrun by criminals.
That leaves the health and safety of millions of Kenyans in the hands of delinquents whose products are stocked in supermarkets, shops, kiosks and other stores countrywide.
Kebs scientists, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of the products they have examined contain dangerous chemicals such as copper and mercury, which can lead to life-threatening ailments such as cancer.
Although some Kebs officials keep raiding supermarkets and stores where some of these goods are kept, their reports are usually ignored by their seniors, hence the contraband remains in the market.
Police recently seized sugar worth millions of shillings destined for the local market, and the Nation has learnt that lab tests showed it contained impurities such as copper.
HIGH MOISTURE CONTENT
Its moisture content was also high — up to 12 per cent — which could lead to the breeding of pathogens in storage. The lab report warned that all the sugar bags “were externally soiled, indicative of poor handling or unclean storage”. Repackaging machines were also seized during the operation.
“This was simply, poison and it is a pity that such products enter the market even after we have raised concerns,” said a scientist at Kebs who did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The contraband sugar was seized in the Eastleigh neighbourhood of Nairobi, considered to be the hub of illegal imports and, alongside Kariobangi, the counterfeiting capital of the nation.
On Tuesday, days after detectives unearthed the fake stickers syndicate, the managing director, Mr Charles Ongwae, inspected and condemned for destruction five containers with goods valued at Sh19 million at the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi. The goods included used counterfeited electric cables, roofing sheets, galvanised steel rolls, and assorted merchandise.
100 PER CENT INSPECTION
Mr Ongwae said his officers will henceforth subject all goods to 100 per cent inspection but, when contacted by the Nation to confirm whether fake stamps had been found within the Kebs premises, he said: “I don’t know what you are talking about.” His office was yet to respond to our questions regarding this syndicate at the time of publishing this story.
But his chairman, Mr Mugambi Imanyara, admitted to the Nation that “there is an organised syndicate operating within Kebs” and pledged that “this is the time to disrupt their business”.
The cartel has been feeding the multi-billion-shilling counterfeit market with stickers via the contracted company. While the estimate of the commercial damage runs into billions of shillings, the damage to human health cannot be quantified.
“They cannot say they are not aware of what goes on within their premises,” said Mr Imanyara, who was appointed to the Kebs board recently.
Detectives had been trying to unravel the source of fake stamps until they conducted a sting operation and found that they all came from Kebs.
“We shall, no doubt, take people to court over this,” said Mr George Kinoti, the Director of Criminal Investigations. “These stickers are not made in Kirinyaga Road; they are all made inside the Kebs compound.”
Madras Security Printers Private Limited is contracted to print 600 million stamps every year but, rather than use high quality paper-based stickers, it has opted for cheap, easy-to-copy material. The sticker is supposed to be coded with information on a product, its manufacturer, and its registration, but if you photocopy a paper-based sticker that information disappears under a scanner, and that is why such stickers are not in the market.
“The market is awash with these fake stickers and we cannot tell which product is genuine and which one is not because we have supplied these counterfeits,” said Mr Imanyara. Already, Kebs has extended the company’s tender by three months.
Curiously, when Kebs invited international tenders for the printing of the security stamps, the Indian firm beat established companies such as De la Rue, which was knocked out at the preliminary stage.
Mr Kinoti told the Nation he has evidence that these stamps end up in the hands of counterfeit manufacturers, and called this “a criminal act which has distorted the market”.
“We are talking of a multi-billion-shilling business that includes the police, Kebs officials, and Kenya Revenue Authority officers on the ground,” said Mr Kinoti.
On its website, Kebs claims to have developed and implemented a secure quality marks system, “complete with track-and-trace software”, since August 1, 2015.
VERIFICATION OF GOODS
“The objective of the project was to deal with rampant faking of Kebs quality marks and provide a platform through which Kebs will be able to carry out on-field, real-time validation and verification of goods bearing its quality marks. The system will also provide an online platform for consumers to directly authenticate the validity of certification of goods before purchase,” the institution promises.
The stickers were to be used for all imported products intended for sale in the local market, and importers are required to purchase Import Standardisation Mark (ISM) stickers directly from Kebs after submitting copies of Certificate of Conformity, Import Declaration Form, and Customs Entry.
It is these stickers which have turned out to be fake, meaning that even importers of genuine products cannot trace their counterfeited products in the market. This is complicating regional trade since all the East African Community countries have a reciprocal mutual recognition agreement to recognise each other’s standards mark.