The one-billion-kilogramme sugar scandal took a dramatic political turn on Tuesday when a Member of Parliament allied to Deputy President William Ruto drew President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family into the corruption saga.
In what would later in the evening shape into a spectacular escalation of political infighting and apparent ill-will, Aldai MP Cornelius Serem said the President’s brother, Mr Muhoho Kenyatta’s company, Protech Investment Limited, had imported about 180,000 metric tonnes of brown sugar into the country, and alleged a plot to shield the younger Kenyatta from investigation.
However, documents presented to the National Assembly showed that, while Protech had been licensed to import sugar, possibly for use in the dairy plant owned by the family, it did not import a single kilogramme.
Mr Ruto’s allies are suspicious of the war on corruption and see it as part of a political battle targeting the Deputy President and his chances of succeeding the President.
Mr Serem joins Nandi senator Samson Cherargei in drawing the President’s family — and, by extension, the President himself — into the corruption controversy.
The Senator suggested that the lifestyle audits, which Mr Kenyatta has ordered, should go back to 1963 and include his father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.
The Agriculture and Livestock Committee, chaired by Mandera South MP Adan Ali, and the Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Committee, chaired by Kieni MP Kanini Kega, are investigating the flooding of the country with sugar after the Treasury, through a dubious policy shift last year, allowed traders to import millions of tonnes of sugar to plug a local supply gap.
The shift, through Gazette Notice number 4536 issued by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich on May 12, 2017, followed an Executive order that declared hunger a national disaster in the country.
By the time it was closed, about 1.3 million metric tonnes of duty-free sugar had been poured into the country, hurting local producers and disenfranchising farmers. The imports were largely from non-Comesa regions.
The Kenyatta family runs the Ruiru-based milk empire Brookside Dairies, which uses tonnes of sugar to produce various dairy products.
Mr Serem linked the failure by Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to appear before the MPs to fears that he would have been placed in an awkward position over the President’s kin.
Mr Kega, however, refuted the claims, saying all directors named in the importation list, whether legal or illegal, will have to give evidence to the committee.
On Tuesday, Mr Matiang’i sought the protection of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi over his failure to appear before the committees.
Through PS Karanja Kibicho, Dr Matiang’i said the issues he is expected to respond to are under investigation by the police and other agencies, and urged the National Assembly to handle the probe cautiously so as not to prejudice delivery of justice.
“An open and detailed deliberation on these matters will prejudice not only the persons who are the subject of the investigations, but the investigators themselves,” he said in a letter signed by the PS.
“It will fall short of the Bill of Rights and other statutes of Parliament that offer guidance on how investigations should be undertaken.”
However, the MPs disagreed with Dr Matiang’i, and instead described him as “rogue” following his failure to honour their two invites so far.
“Kenyans have been too nice to him, making him become so arrogant and rogue,” Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, Mr John Mbadi, said. “We expect him to be accountable to the people of Kenya through Parliament.”
Mr Kega ordered Dr Matiang’i to appear before the two committees on Wednesday.
In the afternoon, the MPs flooded the office of Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr George Kinoti, seeking to be shown the contaminated sugar, among other issues. It is not clear whether they got a session with Mr Kinoti who, the Nation established, was leading an investigation in Industrial Area.
During a plenary session in the chamber later in the day, National Assembly speaker Justin Muturi warned that ministers who fail to honour committee invitations will be punished.
“If they don’t come we will have to deal with them, not just under Article 125 of the Constitution, but also through the Powers and Privileges Act. The chairs of those committees where CSs have failed to appear should report to this House and name them,” Mr Muturi said.
The privileges law imposes a fine of Sh500,000 for witnesses who fail to appear as required.
The probe by the two committees became a matter of public concern after Dr Matiang’i claimed that the government had seized sugar laced with mercury and coppertwo weeks ago.
A government statement later said that, while the sugar was contaminated with copper, it did not have traces of mercury.