Fake sugar, edible oils and fertiliser are among substandard products that have passed through the Mombasa port, putting the facility on the spot.
Consumers have been in the last months exposed to contaminated sugar that entered the country through the port. And they further have been taking substandard edible oils at a premium. Farmers have also been at the mercy of barons selling fake fertiliser.
The Kenyan port was the headquarters of the brazen deceit — the playgrounds of vice which allowed anything to pass.
How far the con game has been going on is not clear but as the scrutiny on the scandalous multibillion shilling sugar import continues, the government has now confirmed the obvious: that so far, 19 million kilos of sugar, which is about three per cent of our annual consumption and equivalent to our weekly requirement, was dirty ridden with yeast and moulds. These can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems.
The numbers are rather shocking: 361 containers of fertiliser, which is 67 per cent of the cargo analysed, has so far failed the test and will be destroyed. Pundits say that this is an indicator of the rip-off that farmers faced on an annual basis.
Already, top Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) officials including the Managing Director Charles Ongwae and nine others have been arrested and charged in court over poor quality standardisation mark, fake fertilisers, and contraband sugar.
On sugar, the Cabinet Secretary for Industry, Trade and Co-operatives Mr Peter Munya, said that “these failures are indicative of poor handling during storage”, raising questions on how this was allowed to happen.
“There must have been a certificate of conformity on these products. And there are agencies at the port which are supposed to verify. The problem is that we are not being told the whole truth,” says Stephen Mutoro, the Consumer Federation of Kenya Secretary-General.
Yesterday, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary said Kebs and other enforcement agencies should be held to account for putting ill-gotten gains before the lives and health of Kenyans in allowing unsafe and substandard commodities in the country. However, the minister did not state whether the mishandling occurred in Kenya or during the importation of the cargo, an issue which could have put the Kebs officials on the spotlight for allowing in substandard sugar. It would also mean that the bodies contracted by the agency to carry out pre-export verification are allowing in cheap, poor quality products to pass.
He did not specify the action they were going to take on the importers.
Also caught between a rock and hard-place are sugar barons who have no factories for they will be forced to show the police where they were taking the unprocessed sugar — otherwise it will not be released.
Detectives will supervise the escort of the sugar to the designated factories and they shall witness the entire reprocessing and packaging of sugar after Kebs and public health officials confirm that the set standards had been met.
The gazette notice signed by Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich on October 4, 2017 allowing in duty-free sugar had specified that it must be consigned to a local sugar miller. But apart from Sony Sugar, which sold its sugar at the port of Mombasa to brokers, the only other miller that imported was West Kenya of Mr Jaswant Rai.
Mr Rai told Parliament that his sugar was to undergo reprocessing and dismissed as “fake” the Kabras brand which was seized in Eastleigh Nairobi from the stores of Diamond Wholesalers owned by Nairobi tycoon Mr Ahmed Sheikh Mohamed.
The sugar import scam has been blamed on both the Cabinet and national Treasury which kick-started a reckless policy that saw one billion kilogrammes of sugar dumped in the country — by barons, brokers and buyers eager to bring in unlimited quantity of the product duty-free.
Perhaps more shocking discovery is that 63 per cent of the edible oils imports seized did not meet the required vitamin A standards triggering fear that consumers could have been taken for a ride by edible oil merchants — and for a long time.
The importers of the edible oils have now been given 30 days to reship the oil. “Following the expiry of the re-shipment period, any shipment that is still within the country will be destroyed at the cost of the owners,” said the CS.
But there is fear that some of the edible oils could be in the market already and that explains why the minister promised that “Kebs will continue to proactively and expeditiously deal with all edible oils in the market that do not conform with its standards strictly in the manner prescribed by the law.”
Since 2012, it has become mandatory for edible oil imports to be fortified with vitamin A, which is crucial for boosting immunity and is a required standard for all imports.
For years now, Kenyan farmers have been complaining about the sale of substandard fertiliser and for the first time, the government has ordered several importers to remove the cargo from the country within 30 days otherwise it “will be destroyed at the cost of the importer”.
Eyes will be on the appeals by some fertiliser importers who have asked for another test on their cargo.
Kebs has since been forced to throw away the Import Standardisation Marks which had been printed by Madras Security Printers, an Indian company contracted by the agency, after it turned out they were abetting import of substandard products. The directors have since been charged in court.