Treasury defends duty free waiver for sugar import

The National Treasury has defended its move to waive duty on imported sugar in 2017, arguing the move was aimed at addressing the severe shortage occasioned by the harsh drought. This as Majority Adan Duale turns the heat on cabinet secretaries and government agencies for the flood of sugar said to be laced with copper and lead. The treasury has also distanced itself from claims the duty free waiver was meant to benefit well connected individuals. Responding to queries on the duty free waiver on sugar, Treasury cabinet secretary Henry Rotich said the invocation of a duty-free regime was within the bounds of the law as the East African customs management procedures allowed for a member country to seek out cheaper imports for essential goods to satisfy heightened demand. “Following the declaration of a disaster in the last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta identified the short supply of two commodities-maize and sugar. I am very surprised of why we have forgotten that in less than one year, we were going into our shops and finding empty shelves. That was the background,” Mr Rotich said. Tasked on whether the directive leveraged an unfair edge to particular importers, the treasury boss insisted that the duty-free window was an open and transparent process for all to take part in. Mr Rotich however faulted inspectorate agencies for failing on their duty to ensure that no substandard sugar supplies hit the domestic market. “We provided the window as per the law, it was for anyone to import. On the question on whether the right sugar was imported, there are agencies at the ports to ensure that the sugar which comes into the country is of the right standard,” he stressed. Kenya produces about 600,000 tons of sugar a year, compared with annual consumption of 870,000 tons, with the deficit meet through strictly controlled imports from the Comesa region. In 2017, the Treasury gazzetted the duty free imports for sugar and maize after outcry from consumers over the high retail costs. The duty free waiver was open with no quota on the quantity importers were to bring into the country. The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) was charged with issuing the importation license for the sugar with sugar millers getting first priority. The country has been treated to raging debate on the import of sugar.

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