By Joe Muli
The Kenyan national parliament descended into a meltdown on Thursday afternoon during the debate to make amendments to and adopt the report on sugar imports by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Trade and Agriculture.
The development is said to have greatly angered both President Uhuru Kenyatta and NASA leader Raila Odinga who are seen to have lost to the Jubilee faction led by DP William Ruto which was desperate to protect ministers incriminated by the probe.
The first sign that the house had been hijacked on Thursday and was being held hostage by powerful sugar barons was when both the Majority Leader Aden Duale and Minority leader John Mbadi appeared to be reading from the same script.
Records from the Hansard show Duale going as far as asking Jubilee MPs to allow the ODM Chair Mbadi to make his contribution.
Earlier shocking scenes had been witnessed in the plenary when members of parliament could be seen openly agitating for bribes which was being coordinated by a group of MPs aligned to Deputy President William Ruto.
Duale and Mbadi who sit on opposite sides of the house, by virtue of their positions, are seen as representing the interests and thinking of their party leaders, who have publicly pledged to slay the corruption dragon.
To the utter dismay of Uhuru and Raila, the two MPs who ordinarily do not see eye to eye are alleged to have received bundles of brand new Kenya shilling bills wrapped in CBK packaging strip that was delivered to their parliamentary offices early that morning.
The crisp notes were then placed in brown envelopes each carrying between Sh10,0000 and Sh30,000, and distributed among MPs from both sides of the political divide depending on how much political clout they hold in their respective parties.
On Sunday both Uhuru and Raila publicly condemned acts of impunity by public servants and reiterated that the fight against corruption would not relent.
The ODM Party Leader went further and issued an uncharacteristic statement in which he said: “All branches of the government; the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive must pull in the same direction if the corruption networks are to be overcome.”
In an apparent reference to shameful events parliament on Thursday, the ODM leader fell short of castigating his own party Chairman John Mbadi but said: “The public currently feels cheated by Parliament, which has become the weakest link in this war against corruptio, with reports of money changing hands for adoption or rejection of reports.”
“This is a major shame to the nation and deserves urgent and thorough investigation by multi-agency team from the EACC, DPP and DCI” said Raila Odinga in a terse statement to newsrooms on Sunday.
The money distributed in parliament was intended to be put to use and to exploit the powerful positions that both Duale and Mbadi occupy in the house, to ensure that any amendments on the controversial illicit sugar importation are defeated.
Although Mbadi who also sits on the ODM Central Committe was quick to deny allegations of having been bribed, it was not lost on MPs that he in days preceding the debate, he had constantly been in consultation with Jubilee MPs aligned Ruto, to the point it was impossible to tell who was in government and who was in opposition, since both the Majority and Minority leaders strongly led their troops in opposing the report after casting aspersions on its credibility. .
The dramatic bribery and exchange of money amongst MPs in the 12th parliament also came as a great shock to Kenyans since by blocking the sugar reports, the MPs were effectively sacrificing the livelihoods of six million Kenyans, or 16% of per the national population, which directly depends on the sugar sub-sector.
Analysts say the actions by the MPs will be felt for many years to come since the sugar sub-sector contributes about 7.5% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and has a major impact on the economies of Western and Nyanza and, to a small extent, the Coast and Rift Valley.
Whereas Duale could be said to be answerable to DP Ruto and was obkigated to supoort the defeat of the report and defend Ruto’s people, the situation with Mbadi is quite intriguing.
Mbadi who vigorously opposed the report and the proposed amendments by Hon Gladys Wanga who is a fellow ODM MP, was expected to automatically endorse the report in the interest of majority sugar farmers who come from DOM counties.
In a radical shift, Mbadi said the team led by Kanini Kega did not conclusively interrogate critical issues raised and would therefore agitate for the total rejection of the report and any amendments therein.
The report recommended that Treasury CS Henry Rotich and former Agriculture CS Willy Bett be investigated for irregularly issuing gazette notices on the importation of sugar and recommending unwarranted duty waiver for 14 private companies.
During the debate on Thursday, Mbadi also rejected three amendments proposed by Hon Wanga, amongst which the President would have been compelled to suspend CD Rotich and CS Adan from the Cabinet.
Wanga wanted the ‘scandalous’ report amended to hold Rotich responsible for failing to specify the quantity and quality of sugar that was to be imported during the duty-free window last year.
She also wanted Rotich to take responsibility for the excess 453,7560 metric tonnes of sugar imported during the waiver period.
“The CS should be held responsible for the over-importation of sugar. If this is not killing the sugar industry in the country, then tell me what it is,” she said.
In her amendments, Wanga also sought to compel the government to sample all the sugar in the country and subject it to thorough testing for heavy metals including mercury, lead and copper. Mbadi termed the amendments by Wanga as malicious and ill-motivated.
Records indicate that President Uhuru issued an executive order to allow duty free sugar and other commodities. The National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich swiftly published a Gazette notice to the same effect on May 12, 2017. The notice allowed importers to bring in duty free sugar till August 31, 2017.
However, on September 29, 2017, and without any prompting, Rotich issued another gazette notice “allowing vessels that had been loaded between September 1 and December 31, 2017, destined to a port in Kenya and consigned to a local sugar miller to bring in the additional sugar without paying import taxes”.
This second Gazette notice has since been the bone of contention and that which resulted in excess sugar imports, duty evasion amounting the billion of shillings and worst of all, importation of poisonous sugar that was found totally unfit for human consumption.