Kenyan lawmakers have rejected a report by two parliamentary committees that recommended the finance minister and a cabinet colleague be investigated over their handling of sugar imports.
The MPs had voted on Thursday to reject the joint report by parliament’s agriculture, and trade and industries committees, which was submitted to parliament last week.
It recommended that Finance Minister Henry Rotich and Adan Mohamed, who is now East African Community minister but was previously minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, and former Agriculture Minister Willy Bett should be investigated over the sugar imports last year.
Neither Rotich nor Mohamed have publicly commented on the report.
The rejection of the findings now leaves taxpayers with an expenditure of over Ksh10 million ($100,000) gone to waste. The amount was paid to the 38 members of the joint committee in sitting allowances as they conducted the investigations.
The money, however, does not include travel, meals and accommodation expenses incurred by the committee during field visits in Nairobi, coastal Mombasa city and western town of Bungoma.
It also does not include remuneration to the parliamentary staff — the committee clerks, sergeant-at-arms, personal assistants and their security details — who provided support services.
The government has undertaken an unprecedented crackdown against what it calls illicit goods, to help boost the country’s manufacturing sector.
The report said Rotich had authorised imports that led to a market oversupply of more than 450,000 tonnes of sugar.
It said Mohamed had failed to supervise the country's standards agency, which falls under the ministry he ran, leading to imports of sugar that was not safe for human consumption.
The government chemist had detected traces of mercury, copper and lead, among other contaminants, during tests on samples of sugar seized in Nairobi’s Eastleigh, Ruiru and Bungoma.
Parliament was unusually full with MPs keen to contribute to the report. According to some lawmakers, there was intense lobbying to discredit the report, which would have dealt a blow to the careers of some public officials.
National Assembly minority leader and Suba South MP John Mbadi opened the defence of Rotich and Bett saying they were “clean” on the sugar issue. He had to stop his contribution for a moment after interruption from other members.
“There is nothing in this report that implicates Mr Rotich. Let us not play politics,” Mbadi told his colleagues. He argued that it was the responsibility of agencies like Kenya Bureau of Standards to ensure the quality of sugar coming into the country once Rotich allowed the imports.
Majority leader Aden Duale invoked President Uhuru Kenyatta’s name in defence of the Cabinet Secretaries. He told MPs not to indict ministers and other public officers through a public court.
A proposal by an MP to form a special taskforce to review and improve the report so that it could be adopted and acted upon was flatly rejected. This means Parliament can only address the problem by appointing another committee that would have to start from scratch.
Kenya consumes 870,000 tonnes of sugar annually but domestic production has fallen due to high costs, old and inefficient sugar-crushing machinery, and mismanagement and theft of farmers’ funds.
Local output was nearly 380,000 tonnes of sugar last year, a 41 per cent drop from about 638,000 tonnes a year earlier, largely as a result of a severe drought in the first quarter of 2017, according to government data.