Kebs, public health officers on warpath over food inspection

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 00:00 |
Association of Public Health Office of Kenya secretary-general Mohammed Bagajo addresses the press in Nairobi on Friday. Photo/PD/BERNARD ORWONGO

A vicious war is brewing between the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and public health officers over the inspection mandate of imported foods and drugs, putting lives of many Kenyans at risk.

The feud comes after the government, through Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua issued a circular barring public health officers from inspecting imported foods and drugs.

The battle, which is reported to have led to the clearance of questionable food and drugs to enter the local market, has moved to court after the Association of Public Health Office of Kenya (APHOK) sought interpretation of the government circular. The public health officers body accuses Kebs of operating like a cartel and of intimidating their members.

In one of the instances, according to APHOK secretary general Mohammed Bagajo, a consignment of 23 tonnes of spoilt ginger imported from Vietnam was flagged by public health officials at the Kilindini Port in Mombasa, but was later released to the market by Kebs.

Government report

According to a report from the Government Chemist, dated August 14, 2019 and signed by Dorothy Kai, the ginger was laced with dirt, the moisture content was 14 per cent which is above the recommended 12 per cent and some of it was rotten and therefore “does not comply with standards”.

Bagajo said the June 4, circular from Kinyua, which he says is “just profits oriented”, has reduced public health officers to spectators as their role is now limited to boarding any vessel at the point of entry but the inspection and the intervention role has been left to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) through Kebs.

The circular titled “Operationalisation and Improvement of Cargo Logistics at the Port of Entry and Inland Container Depots” placed public health officers at category one together with Immigration, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) Customs department and Port Facility Security Office. 

The move was made as part of the government’s efforts to cut cost of doing business and enhancing efficiency at the ports of entry, but APHOK say it’s going to have dire consequences since food and drugs that are dangerous are easily finding their way into the market.

“We reiterate that whereas the government’s appreciation that the cost of doing business and efficiency at the port of entry is dependent  on the actions of government agencies, shipping lines, clearing agencies as well as the cargo owners, this should be carefully balanced with the need to ensure that only safe food, drugs and other substances reach the consumer,” Bagajo said. 

APHOK through lawyer Allan Odhiambo, wants implementation of the circular stopped by the court pending hearing and determination of the case in which public health officers are seeking the circular’s interpretation. The Kebs and KPA are the respondents. 

“The petitioners (APHOK) are extremely apprehensive that without the intervention of the court, there is imminent risk that food, drugs and other substances would continue entering the country through points of entry without being subjected to the required checks as envisaged under the Public Health Act and Foods, Drugs and Substance Act,” reads an affidavit sworn by Bagajo. 

Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi warned that the vicious competition, which he said is being fuelled by greedy and selfish people at Kebs and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), will have serious consequences since it has led to an influx of dangerous food and drugs into local the market.  

“There is competition, Kebs has conspired with KRA to block public health officers from executing their mandate; recently imported maize was found to be poisonous another  poisonous cargo was imported through the EPZ but even after public health officers raised alarm Kebs and KRA released it to the market and if the trend continues, it will put lives of Kenyans at risk,” Mwinyi said.

According to the Public Health Act and Foods, Drugs and Substance Act Cap 242, public health officers have a mandate of inspecting imported foodstuff, cosmetics and disinfectants to ensure they comply with stipulated standards.

Samples assessment

This is done through taking of the suspected samples for assessment either through physical examination and surveillance based assessment or tests  at the Government Chemist.    

But with the circular, which placed Kebs as the lead agency in  coordinating the inspection of goods at the country of origin, Bagajo says goods with certificate of conformity “need not to be subjected to any physical extermination yet goods, especially food stuff can get contaminated during transit”.

And with APHOK’s role technically having been moved to Kebs through the circular, Bagajo said things will only get worse since it will fuel the turf wars among state agents have exposed Kenyans to unsafe food. 

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