KILLER SUGAR: Legislators Accused Of Collecting Bribes From Importer
By Ibrahim Oruko
OUTRAGE greeted accusations that MPs had been paid to shoot down a report on imported sugar that cost Kenyans Sh10 billion in lost taxes and which exposed consumers to health hazards.
ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi faulted the National Assembly, arguing that it had betrayed the trust that Kenyans had placed in their elected representatives.
“The National Assembly showed shameful display of complicity.
“Its action has emboldened sugar barons, aided evasion of tax and flies in the face of President [Uhuru] Kenyatta’s anti-corruption crusade. It has condemned cane farmers to servitude and killed the hope reviving local sugar industry,” Mr Mudavadi said.
Funyula MP Oundo Mudenyo, who was a member of the joint committee, also hit out at Parliament, saying that the committee had worked under intense pressure and tight deadlines to unmask those culpable, only for the report to be rejected even with amendments.
“MPs never bothered to read the report. They only checked the recommendations and when it touched the sacred cows, they decided to shoot it down,” he said in protest.
Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said the rejection of the report was a victory for cartels and a big blow to thousands of farmers who eke out a living through cane farming.
“The institution of Parliament that is supposed to protect the public has turned against them,” Mr Osotsi said.
Muhoroni MP James K’Oyoo accused the Speaker of gagging the debate, which he said negated the true intent of President Kenyatta to meet the sugar deficit in the country.
He warned that the outcome of the vote had opened a floodgate for unscrupulous dealers to bring sugar laced with poisons into the country.
“There were missing gaps in the report we wanted to remedy through the amendments. Now a good report has been trashed.
“MPs failed to exhibit patriotism and as a result the country has been left in a state of hopelessness,” Mr Koyoo lamented.
The multimillion bribery scheme involving members of Parliament to influence the outcome of the report in which Kenya lost more than Sh10 billion in taxes has come to light.
Parliament rejected the report prepared by a joint committee ostensibly on the grounds that the team ignored its terms of reference and did not take into consideration witness statements.
The Saturday Nation can authoritatively reveal that millions of shillings changed hands as shadowy figures sought to influence the debate so that some top government officials implicated by the report could be let off the hook.
On Thursday morning the Saturday Nation team saw wards of crisp Sh1,000 notes stashed in a blue envelope, which one MP confided contained Sh30,000.
The money had been sent through an emissary by a government official.
He said other people unhappy with the report might have sent their own emissaries.
Alego Usonga MP Samuel Atandi said that the money was being shared in Parliament from Wednesday evening with the sole aim of ensuring that MPs shot down the sugar report.
He did not say who was dishing out the money. “My conscience could not allow me to take the money,” Mr Atandi said.
The committee had investigated the circumstances under which the government allowed uncontrolled importation of sugar in 2017 during a duty-free window opened by the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich.
Some of the sugar was suspected to have been toxic or unfit for human consumption as it was not fully processed.
The latest report said three Cabinet secretaries should take responsibility for flooding of the market with the bad or duty-free sugar.
Witnesses who saw money changing hands in Parliament said that at one moment Kimilili MP Didmas Barasa confronted a woman representative from North Eastern who offered him Sh10,000 to vote against the report.
Yesterday, the MP confirmed that the woman rep (name withheld for legal reasons) had tried to bribe him to vote against the report.
“I was in the company of Sirisia MP John Waluke when she gave me a blue envelope with Sh10,000. I rejected it,” he said.
Matungu MP Makokha Murunga corroborated the claims.
“MPs were compromised. What happened along the corridors of Parliament is shameful.
“I am not afraid to say that the report was rejected on the basis of corruption. It is sad and shameful that some MPs received as little as Sh10, 000 to shoot down the report,” Mr Murunga said.
MPs earn upwards of Sh1 million in salaries and allowances.
Besides the woman rep, four other MPs — all of them from the Rift Valley — were at the centre of mobilising other legislators to receive the suspect handouts.
Political and ethnic expediency is also believed to have played a part in influencing MPs.
“We cannot fight corruption when we still have a higher loyalty to our ethnic cocoons,” said one angry MP.
The revelation of bribery comes barely a week after National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi issued summons to two parliamentary reporters after they reported claims of corruption in the proceedings of House committees. Mr Muturi later described the two as heroes.
On Thursday, at about 2pm, one of the mobilisers from the Rift Valley took a position in the bar located in the new wing of Parliament Buildings and was joined by a group of between 30 to 40 MPs from both sides of the House.
This is a normal occurrence as MPs lobby on matters through informal sittings.
However, this was different because the MP compiled a list of all those who were present, then advised them to reject the report of the joint committee on Agriculture and Livestock and that on Trade, Industry and Co-operatives on the importation of sugar.
The commodity was suspected to be contaminated with elements of heavy metals such as mercury, lead and copper among others.
Traces of these metals when consumed regularly and in large amounts cause various types of cancer.
The joint committee, co-chaired by Mandera South MP Adan Ali and his Kieni counterpart Kanini Kega, had recommended that Mr Rotich, then Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed and former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett be held responsible for the unchecked importation of sugar.
Rejection of the report meant denial of justice for sugar farmers.
“We were called to meet here only to be given an envelope, which I took,” an MP said on condition that he would not be named.
Matayos MP Godfrey Odanga, who saw what was going on, lambasted his colleagues for lowering the integrity of Parliament.
“Shame on you. How do you pick Sh20,000 yet you earn Sh1 million? This is really bad and shameful,” Mr Odanga shouted.
“Instead of representing the people we are shamelessly jostling to pick money at the expense of doing what we were elected to do.”
Butere MP Tindi Mwale complained that by rejecting the report, MPs had conspired to undermine the economy of sugarcane growing regions.
“The mercury in the sugar has gone into their head that is why they rejected the report,” he said.
Alego Usonga MP Samuel Atandi told the Saturday Nation that money was all over Parliament by Wednesday.
When it dawned on the group that they had been seen, they moved to the members’ lounge, which is inaccessible to non-members.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Mudavadi said that President Kenyatta should establish a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the sugar importation saga.
He also criticised MPs, saying they were part of the scheme to cover up the truth on the availability of toxic sugar in the market.
“Impoverished cane farmers, ailing sugar factories and millions of sugar consumers in Kenya have been thrown under the bus by none other than their institution of Parliament. Parliament should be investigated for abetting criminality and corruption,” he said.
“Kenyans are poorer for they will not know if the sugar they are taking is poisonous; and Sh10.6 billion in taxes due from the imports will be lost. Parliament has wilfully laid the tombstone on ailing sugar factories’ hopes of revival.”
Meanwhile, the top leadership of the House yesterday openly differed over the decision by the House to reject the report.
Minority Whip Junet Mohammed, Majority Whip Benjamin Washiali and Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter openly differed in Mombasa over the rejection of the report.
Mr Washiali said the House had missed an opportunity to address the key problems facing the sugar sub sector.
“On Monday as MPs from the sugar belt we shall meet and elaborate on this issue,” he said.
Mr Mohamed, who is also the Suna East MP, called on investigative agencies to take over the matter.
“It is now the turn of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and other investigating agencies to launch new investigations and get to the bottom of the issues,” he said.
He rejected a proposal that another committee be picked to investigate the scandal, saying it would amount to a waste of public funds.
Earlier, Mr Keter had suggested that the House should task the committee on health to take over the fresh investigations.
Additional reporting by Kazungu Samuel
CREDIT: Daily Nation