Parliament must get to bottom of dirty Brazilian sugar scam

Wednesday March 18 2020

Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Chairman Kanini Kega (right) and his counterpart from the Agriculture and Livestock team, Mr Adan Haji Ali, lead the National Assembly’s probe into the sugar scandal. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


It is good to see Parliament taking the sugar matter seriously.

In an unprecedented move, the House rejected a report by its own sub-committee on the sugar scandal for failing to meet transparency and accountability standards.

It seems that Parliament is setting a ‘new normal’ insofar as parliamentary oversight of decisions by the Executive is concerned.

I will attempt to set the agenda for the investigation Parliament is about to launch on the sugar scam. Here are the pertinent issues and questions the second parliamentary investigations on the matter must deal with.

First, Parliament must thoroughly scrutinise the May 2017 Kenya Gazette notice that opened the floodgates for the importing of dirty Brazilian sugar.


That is where the rain started beating us.

The MPs must ask why a free-for-all regime was introduced despite the entity which regulates and licenses sugar imports — the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) — having just announced its own programme for imports of clean sugar from the Comesa regional bloc, of which Kenya is among the 19 members.

The second issue which parliament must deal with as they scrutinise this gazette notice is the manner in which this announcement handled duty-free imports of milk that was announced concurrently in the very same publication.

In the case of milk, the notice clearly spelt out the quantities of powdered milk that would be allowed to be imported on a duty-free basis.

Furthermore, the notice clearly stated that importers of the duty-free milk had to seek approval of the regulator of that sector — namely, the Kenya Dairy Board — before bringing it into the country.


Why is it that the gazette notice treated duty-free imports of milk differently from that of sugar?

Parliament should investigate and make a finding as to why the provisions of the Crops Act 2013 were breached. That piece of legislation says that all dealers in scheduled crops — of which sugar is one — must be licensed under this Act. When you don’t issue licences, how would you know or regulate quantities coming into the country? How do you assess the impact of the imports on local production of that product?

And, while still on the issue of compliance with the law, Parliament should investigate and make a finding on whether that gazette notice complied with the provisions of the East African Customs Management Act 2014.

Indeed, the Act only allows a member State to unilaterally declare duty-free imports in the manner the gazette notice did when there is an emergency — such as the recent floods. And, under this window, the duty-free imports must be made by the government itself, an agency of the State or a relief organisation — not private companies or individuals.


Again, duty-free imports under the East African Customs Act 2014 cannot be done for profit.

Parliament should investigate why the law was breached to allow merchants to make billions from selling dirty sugar to consumers. How much of the dirty sugar is circulating in markets all over the country right now?

Parliament must investigate why public safety and consumer protection issues have been put on the back burner. As a consumer of sugar, how can I know whether the packet of sugar I am picking up from the supermarket shelf is contaminated or not?

Which brings me to the vexed question of the processing of raw sugar. How much capacity do we have in the country to process raw sugar?

Parliament must investigate and seek to explode the myth that these greedy importers brought in such massive amounts of sugar with the intention of processing it before selling it to consumers.


Do our local millers, really, have capacity to process the massive quantities of dirty sugar that they imported? I don’t agree.

If they had the wherewithal, why is it that some of big importers had to resort to storing the stuff in far-flung parts of the country?

Parliament must also recommend that all the Brazilian dirty sugar still circulating in the country be confiscated and destroyed appropriately.

Mark you, dirty sugar does not become clean by merely repackaging it. Clearly, the reason the Brazilian sugar was imported in such a massive scale was to sell it directly to consumers.

Mid last year, Brazilian sugar was landing in Mombasa at about Sh2,500 per 50 kilogramme bag compared to Sh4,500 for a similar quantity of clean sugar that is fit for human consumption from Comesa.

It has almost become the norm in this country that massive sugar imports must happen just as we approach elections. I think it is something to do with political campaign financing.

[email protected]