So, who should be held responsible for selling poisonous sugar to unwitting consumers?
In this country, getting away with breaking the law is much easier when you are rich. It is the mall man who bears the brunt of the law.
That is the way I felt the other day when I read a press report that a contingent of top State officers, with the Deputy Head of Public Service, Mr Wanyama Musiambo, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Joseph Boinnet, and the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr George Kinoti, at the helm had led a night raid in Eastleigh, where a huge consignment of sugar deemed to be unfit for human consumption was discovered.
It was being repackaged in bags deceptively labelled with local brand names — especially the West Kenya Sugar Factory’s Kabras.
DAMAGING INTERNAL ORGANS
Results of the tests conducted at the Government Chemist reportedly showed that impurities found in the sugar were capable of causing damage to internal organs.
And now I ask, where have all these top State officers been since the build-up to last year’s elections, when big merchants and millers were allowed to flood the market with duty-free, semi-processed, health-uncertified and raw Brazilian sugar?
It all very well to raid the premises of little traders of Eastleigh and arrest the fellows caught repackaging this poisonous sugar. But shouldn’t the focus of investigations be the big merchants and sugar millers who knowingly imported the poisonous sugar into the country?
Why aren’t we seeing investigations and arrests within government departments and State agencies that entirely ignored the standards and laws governing health certification of raw sugar imports to allow these merchants to dump the poison into the market?
As a society, we are surely at the nadir of moral values. Despite the fact that some of the raw Brazilian sugar came in bags clearly marked “Not fit for human consumption” — and didn’t have health certification by our pre-shipment verification contractors — no public officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Sugar Directorate or the Kenya Bureau of Standards raised an eyebrow. They all buried their heads in the sand.
I was thoroughly amused when Mr Boinnet paraded a truck carrying 1,400 tonnes of the poisonous sugar and flaunted it as a major success.
The truth of the matter is that in excess of 450,000 tonnes of this raw, semi-processed, and health-uncertified sugar was imported last year and is being sold to Kenyans.
And it is an open secret that two companies brought in the largest quantities of raw sugar from Brazil — one a trader and the other a western Kenya-based private miller.
If you track Customs statistics, you will see that a good proportion of the sugar was imported all the way from Brazil while even larger quantities were purchased from a Dubai-based refinery.
Experts will tell you that what makes raw sugar unfit for human consumption is that the way it is physically handled and transported renders it open to contamination from impurities.
In our case, the raw Brazilian sugar was delivered from the mills in Brazil, Swaziland and Dubai by open vessels that often carry fertiliser.
Like sand, bulk oil and clinker, it is moved by conveyor belts directly into ships’ holds. It is then scooped out and put straight into 50 kilogramme bags or — in the case of the bulk shipments that came straight to Mombasa — poured onto the quayside, loaded into open trucks, dumped on warehouse floors and then bagged straight for the Kenyan market.
How did we end up choosing to import large quantities of semi-processed raw Brazilian sugar in the first place?
Powerful millers lobbied the government to ignore the Comesa route because raw Brazilian sugar offered bigger margins to greedy merchants.
Indeed, at the time we were allowing imports of the sub-standard sugar, there was plenty of brown sugar within Comesa that was ready to be imported under preferential terms stipulated in the treaties and protocols of the bloc.
International sugar trading companies also stand accused. They knowingly and irresponsibly promoted shipment of raw and sub-standard Brazilian sugar into Kenya, merely on account of discounted prices.
The government should consider seizing all raw sugar and insist that it be reprocessed before it is presented for human consumption. After all, the private miller, Kibos, has been bragging about having built capacity to reprocess raw sugar. That will protect the consumer from health risks while at the same time protecting producer prices.
But, most important, the government must restore its authority and control over a market it has surrendered to sugar barons and politically well-connected merchants.