Members of Parliament on Wednesday claimed that business mogul Jaswant Rai, whose business empire owns a string of sugar factories of importing huge quantities which may have damaged the local industry.
At a press conference, the chairman of the Committee of Agriculture summoned Mr Jaswant Rai, the chairman of the Rai empire, whom he claimed had imported 185,000 tones of sugar.
Mr Rai's family owns West Kenya Sugar, which produces the Kabras brand. The company issued a statement on Wednesday to say it imported semi-processed sugar to make up for a shortage of cane caused by drought last year and that all its products were safe and certified fit to consume.
On the floor, Majority Leader Aden Duale , charged that Mr Rai used five different companies to import sugar and stored it in go downs spread across the country including Nakuru, Raiply, Timsales, West Kenya, Webuye, Sukari Distributors, Ndhiwa, JB Maina in Mombasa among others.
“This importation of cheap and toxic sugar in the country smacks of a well-orchestrated move to kill the genuine sugar milling companies in the country such as Mumias, Nzoia, Chemelil and Muhoroni sugar companies where local farmers depend for livelihood,” Mr Duale claimed.
In the meantime fights have broke out between parliamentary committees as well as among Cabinet Secretaries over the whole sugar question.
On Wednesday, Industrialisation CS Adan Mohammed dismissed claims that contaminated sugar is on sale in the country. He claimed all sugar that comes into the country through the formal channels is tested and free of contamination. He asked his Interior colleague, Mr Fred Matiangí, to establish the source of information on mercury contamination and see how best to deal with those claims.
“We need to have discussion between ourselves with a view of tracing back the origin. If there is mercury then we should recall all the sugar on the shelves and ensure it is destroyed. If there is no mercury, we should put the record straight and save Kenyans from unnecessary anxiety,” the CS said.
Mr Mohamed was speaking on Wednesday when he appeared before the Committee on Trade and Investment at Boma Hotel in Nairobi.
He said he could only discuss sugar which comes in through the official entry points.
In parliament, the National Assembly launched a 10-day investigation into the sugar affair. The investigation starts on Monday next week.
Speaker Justin Muturi directed the Agriculture and Trade, Commerce and Cooperatives committees to jointly investigate the matter during acrimonious debate in the House.
Members were divided on which committee should investigate the matter. When it was brought to the House by Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda on Tuesday, amidst claims that the sugar was contaminated with mercury and copper, Mr Muturi said the committee on Trade chaired by Kieni MP Kanini Kega should conduct the investigations and report to the House..
The Trade committee is responsible for issues to do with counterfeit products while Agriculture deals with licensing.
Wednesday's meeting between CS Mohammed and the committee was the formal beginning of the investigations.
However, in the afternoon, MPs led by majority whip Bernard Washiali protested the move and sought to have the investigations handled by the Agriculture committee.
This forced Mr Muturi to rule that two committees should jointly conduct investigations open to the media, in a move that nullifies the steps that had been undertaken by the Trade committee.
Even as this unfolded, leader of majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale tabled a list of people he said were behind the importation of the contraband sugar.
The list includes Sukari investments limited 430,000 bags and Dubai Mattresses limited 500, 000 bags among others.
Mr Duale claimed illegal sugar could have been allowed into the country during the election period.
Prior to Mr Muturi’s ruling, the members of the committee on Agriculture chaired by Adan Haji (Mandera East) had convened a press conference in the afternoon and announced that they had taken charge of the investigations and released the schedule of witnesses to appear before it.
“We must interrogate this matter within the shortest duration possible because we are staring at a public health disaster. This committee will not be complacent in the discharge of its mandate,” Mr Haji said.
The Mandera East MP also announced that Cabinet Secretaries Mwangi Kiunjuri (Agriculture), Henry Rotich (National Treasury), Adan Mohamed (Industry, Trade and Cooperatives) and Dr Fred Matiang’i among those to appear.
In the Senate, the House was divided on the matter. Whereas a section of legislators wanted the House to investigate, there are others who argued that Parliament has been accused of complicity and it was upon President Uhuru Kenyatta to invoke executive orders and punish all those who have been mentioned.
Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo rejected calls for senate investigations but asked the President to form a commission of inquiry to deal with the matter. Parliament has been accused and it is incapable of investigating this matter," he said.