KISERO: State must remove dirty sugar from shelves, punish importers - Daily Nation

State must remove dirty sugar from shelves, punish importers

Wednesday June 27 2018

contraband sugar

Deputy Head of Public Service Wanyama Musiambo, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet and DCI George Kinoti stand next to contraband sugar that was impounded in Eastleigh, Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JAINDI KISERO
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The Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly, Mr Aden Duale, may not be your most inspiring or popular politician.

When he speaks, he often comes across as a man with too much power in his head — patronising, petulant and self-absorbed.

Yet when he last week spoke in Parliament about the scam surrounding massive imports of dirty Brazilian sugar last year, Duale raised a very pertinent point.

The investigations, he charged, must target the big importers.

In the rush to prosecute and judge, we could find ourselves chasing red herrings. In my view, the bare minimum which we must demand from investigators are the following: How much of the dirty sugar has been sold to traders and is circulating in markets all over the country even as the investigations continue?

Public safety and consumer protection must be put high in the agenda of these investigations.

CONTAMINATED SUGAR

As a consumer, how can I know whether the packet of sugar I am picking up from the supermarket shelf is contaminated or not?

That is not to say that the emphasis and focus which the investigations have put into catching the thieves is not right. If I were in charge, I would make sure that the investigations run in tandem with a massive countrywide educational campaign informing consumers about the places contaminated sugar is likely to be found.

As things stand, with Cabinet secretaries blowing hot and cold and speaking at cross-purposes about whether the contaminated sugar contains mercury or copper, we run the risk of precipitating the equivalent of a bank run on supermarkets storing sugar.

The consumer must be given full information and guided accordingly.

Consumer protection and public health risks concerns aside, the investigations must also answer the following basic questions.

PROCESS RAW SUGAR

How much capacity do we have in the country to process raw sugar?

This is a pertinent question because we must confront the make-believe story by millers that they brought in the dirty sugar with the intention of refining it before selling it to consumers.

Do these local millers, really have capacity to refine the massive quantities of sugar that they imported?

If that is the case, then we must conclude that the government’s intention when it opened the window for imports of the dirty sugar was to allow millers to stop buying any sugarcane from farmers.

Should it, really, surprise anyone that some of the big importers brought in so much that they had to resort to storing the stuff in far-flung parts of the country, including warehouses belonging to PanPaper in Webuye?

SMALL TRADERS

Is the raw sugar circulating in the country going to be properly re-processed — and not just re-packaged? And who is going to supervise the job of re-processing all dirty sugar we imported from Brazil last year?

What penalty should be applied to the importers — not just the small traders of Eastleigh — who brought in the sugar into the country in the first place?

Who allowed these greedy traders to bring in sugar which is unfit for human consumption without introducing a mechanism for making sure that it does not reach the shop before being reprocessed for public consumption?

Mr Jaswant Rai, the proprietor of West Kenya and also Sukari Ltd in western Kenya and Kanyare Sugar in Uganda, has put up a strong defence, arguing that his intention was to reprocess the sugar before releasing it into the market.

But even if you decided to give Mr Rai the benefit of the doubt, how about the more than 100 other importers who also brought in the dirty stuff?

DUTY-FREE WINDOW

Mombasa-based Holbud, the second-largest importer of the Brazilian sugar after Mr Rai, does not possess a factory to process sugar.

Let these importers not fool anyone. It is clear that the reason the dirty sugar was imported in such a massive scale was to sell it directly to consumers. Period.

If, as they claim, their intention was to have the dirty sugar refined first, how is it that the police are, day in day out, discovering hundreds of thousands of tonnes in far-flung parts of the country — from Meru to Migori to Webuye and Kajiado?

NATIONAL DISASTERS

And I just don’t buy the argument by the National Treasury that the duty-free window was opened in line with the East Africa Customs Management Act that allows partner states to approve duty-free imports during natural disasters.

It is clear that, even when you declare a national disaster, the Act still demands that the imports can only be done by the government itself, its approved agents or relief agencies operating in the areas of the country where the calamity has happened.

Furthermore, the Act prohibits partner states from profiting for duty-free imports. All dirty sugar should be confiscated. Period.