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Agri committee demands audit of lost revenue from “cheap” food imports

Monday, 20, Nov– The National Assembly Committee on Agriculture and Livestock is calling for a forensic audit on tax waivers given to sugar importers who were given permits to import 280,000 metric tons of sugar into the country. The committee is further asking for an audit of the sugar importation process and lost revenue that was meant to lower the cost of sugar to the end user which has yet to happen.

“The main reason the government is involved in issuing tax waivers to importers is to cushion Kenyans against adversities such as the high cost of living. We would want to know exactly how these waivers have helped ease the cost of food purchases for Kenyans,” inquired Nyando MP, Hon. Jared Okello.

The departmental committee on agriculture and livestock met with Mr. Mithika Linturi, Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Agriculture and Livestock Development, on Monday, regarding the tax waivers on sugar, rice, and maize imports.

Legislators pressed for details on the import companies, their selection criteria, and the quantities of sugar, rice, and maize imported.

“What we asking to see is the names and details of everybody who imported food into the country under the waiver, we would like to see the tangible benefits of this waiver to all Kenyans,” demanded committee chair Dr. John Mutunga.

The agriculture CS said that importers had only delivered 163,827 metric tons of sugar from January to September 2023 against the anticipated 280,000 metric tons.

“We can only speculate as to why there is still a 48,000MT sugar deficit. There is no sugar in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) market or the world market. India recently closed the export of its sugar and rice,” said Linturi.

He informed the committee that in December 2022 the country’s projected sugar deficit was adjusted to 100,000MT to cover the period January-March 2023. An approved pre-import duty waiver for 100,000 MT of sugar was granted on 22nd December 2022 through a Gazette Notice.

Committee members questioned the transparency of the recruitment process and the sustainability of the imports. 

“What are the qualifications of a company as an importer? From what I can see there is no clear criteria?, ” asked Hon. Jared Okello.

Lawmakers also questioned the sustainability of the commodity imports. “We need to see figures that demonstrate how importation has reduced the cost of sugar, maize, and rice for consumers, so far the duty waiver is only benefiting the importers,” said Tigania West  MP,  Hon. Dr. John Mutunga.

MPs demanded full disclosure of companies of all companies involved in the recent imports. Concerns were raised about the qualifications of companies as importers, pointing out a lack of clear criteria and the extension of importation through a Gazette Notice issued in October 2023.

According to Mr. Linturi: ” Kenya experienced a prolonged drought from 2020 to 2022 described as the worst in 40 years. The 2022 drought caused crop failure creating a national food deficit of about 34 per cent. Maize production was lowest in 10 years at 34.4 million 90kg bags against a national consumption requirement of 50 million 90kg bags.”

The Committee on Agriculture and Livestock expressed dissatisfaction with the Ministry’s responses, with Members’ demanding more comprehensive information on importers.

“In the 70s and 80s Kenya used to be a producer of food but today, we are a net importer of maize, sugar, rice, and wheat, what went wrong?” asked Kwanza MP, Hon. Ferdinand Wanyonyi.

Photo Courtesy: Ministry of Agriculture

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