Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on Thursday failed to show up before a parliamentary committee investigating contaminated sugar in the country, raising fears among MPs of a possible cover-up.
Some members were not sure where a Government Chemist report, which found sugar samples were contaminated with, among others, mercury, came from, adding to the confusion.
“We stumbled on an annexture in Mombasa,” co-chairman Kanini Kega told the Nation.
Mr Kega said the report did not have a forwarding letter and that is why they wanted government officials to come and present the report in person.
Dr Matiangí, who was to be accompanied by Government Chemist Ali Gakweli, kept the MPs waiting for more than three hours.
He was to shed light on the controversial report compiled by Mr Gakweli.
All along, parliamentary staff kept assuring the MPs and journalists that Dr Matiang’i and Mr Gakweli were held in heavy traffic on their way to Parliament Buildings.
Mr Kega, one of the chairmen of the joint committee and Kieni MP, had on Wednesday read to members a letter he said was from the Interior ministry requesting that the CS be allowed to appear before them on Thursday afternoon.
Come Thursday and Dr Matiang’i was nowhere to be seen, prompting a section of the committee members to accuse Mr Kega of colluding with the CS to delay the proceedings.
When it became apparent that Dr Matiang’i would not show up after all, the committee retreated to a closed-door meeting where Mr Kega and his co-chair, Mandera South MP Adan Ali, were put to task over their insistence that Dr Matiang’i and Mr Gakweli be present before the report could be discussed.
The enraged MPs, led by Mr Simba Arati (Dagoretti North), were opposed to the insistence that Dr Matiang’i appear before them before the report could be discussed.
Sources told Nation that at some point, there was a bitter exchange between Mr Arati and Mr Kega. “We realise that we are being taken round in circles using the CS as a scapegoat, but we have decided that we will expedite the report,” a member of the committee quoted Mr Arati.
Other sources within the committee, who sought anonymity because parliamentary rules bar them from discussing proceedings with non-members, revealed that a section of the MPs did not want to question the CS on the report. Instead, sources said, the MPs wanted Dr Matiang’i to answer on why the Government Chemist was transferred from the Health ministry to the Interior docket.
But when they realised that those opposed to the move were prepared to defeat their course, “they changed tact and deliberately frustrated Dr Matiang’i’s planned appearance”.
However, speaking last evening, Mr Kega said they wanted to be certain because of the serious consequences, for the economy and public health, of the decisions taken by the committee. “Contaminated sugar will all be destroyed, whether it is because of moisture content or mercury. But let it be destroyed for the right reasons,” he said.
The contamination saga will certainly change the sugar supply situation, and prices, in the country.
Already, the Nation learnt, Darasa Ltd whose 40,000 metric tons of sugar was blocked by the Kenya Revenue Authority which demanded Sh2.5 billion in taxes, has already offered to pay the taxes and bring in the commodity. Its case challenging the KRA decision is before the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, Machakos Woman Representative Joyce Kamene claimed Mr Gakweli, who had allegedly come to defend his report before the MPs, had been ordered to leave Parliament buildings in unclear circumstances. “There is something that is not right.
It is time we conclude this matter immediately because we have been going around in circles with this thing,” Ms Kamene said even as the committee formed a subcommittee chaired by Mr Arati to investigate the claim.
Her South Imenti colleague Kathuri Murungi said the committee should proceed and discuss the document and have the matter concluded once and for all.
Yesterday was the 27th sitting of the committee. The team has had three extensions and has until Wednesday next week to provide a comprehensive report to the House on the status of sugar in the market.
The push and pull among the members came after it emerged that the sugar consumed by the military officers at Moi Airbase, Eastleigh in Nairobi has traces of the poisonous mercury.
The report also shows that sugar in Bungoma is not safe either as it has elements of the heavy metal.
The report by Mr Gakweli shows that samples of the sugar tested have traces of mercury, lead, copper, arsenic and zinc as claimed by Dr Fred Matiang’i.
“The sugar is not suitable for human consumption based on the samples supplied by the clients,” said the report signed by SG Njoroge on behalf of the government chemist.
Yesterday, a majority of the committee members accused their leadership of employing delaying tactics to defeat the truth.
When the committee received the report last week, it postponed its report writing mission in Mombasa after the contents of the document ruffled the feathers of some members.
“They do not want to conclude this matter because they have been compromised by those behind the impounded sugar to doctor the outcome,” a member said, a claim that Mr Kega denied.
The government chemist’s report was presented to the joint sitting of the two committees by Director of Public Health Kepha Ombaso as the members were in Mombasa last weekend for report writing.
Ms Naisula Lesuuda’s request for the report was prompted by an raised alarm by Dr Matiang’i that the sugar imported into the country has elements of heavy metals.
According to the government chemist, the heavy metals have different effects on human health.
For instance, mercury is toxic to the central nervous system, damages the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and the immune system when consumed. Lead causes cancer of the kidneys, brains and lungs.