Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi has opposed new miraa regulations gazetted by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, terming them illegal and unconstitutional.
The governor said there was no adequate public participation before the rules were published, adding that some of the provisions would make doing business expensive for players.
The rules, published in a special Kenya Gazette notice on June 9, detail a raft of provisions, including those touching on safety during the harvesting and packaging of the stimulant, levies and licences.
Mr Murungi’s opposition to the new rules is likely to open a fresh confrontation between the two political rivals, who had not been seeing eye to eye until they were united in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition, whose presidential candidate is Raila Odinga.
Speaking on Monday during a forum for cooperatives societies in the agricultural sector in Meru, Mr Murungi vowed to seek legal redress if the ministry did not revoke them.
He said the regulations had cast a dark shadow on the hope farmers had for the revival of the sector with the Somali government’s commitment to lift a two-year ban on imports of khat from Kenya.
“We are grateful for the intervention of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who during the inauguration of the new president of Somalia struck a deal on reopening the market. Soon the agreement will be signed and business will be back to normal,” he said.
But he warned that the regulations might spell doom for exporters of the produce, saying the proposed levies were out of reach for traders.
The rules seek to impose a Sh30 levy on each kilo of exported miraa and related products and Sh60 per kilo for imports, which will be paid to the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).
“Any levy imposed under this regulation which remains unpaid shall be recovered by the Authority as a civil debt due to it from the person by whom it is payable,” the regulations state.
“A person who fails, neglects or otherwise refuses to pay or remit the regulatory levy on time as provided for under these regulations where directed by the Authority in writing, in addition to paying the regulatory levy shall have a sum equal to five per cent of the amount added to the amount due for each month or part thereof during which the amount due remains unpaid.”
Transporters and vendors will also require permits, although these will not attract any fees.
Vendors will get permits after satisfying authorities that their premises are in designated and properly marked points to be used exclusively for the sale of the produce.
The premises should not be located within 100 metres of a school.
On transportation, the rules state: “Miraa shall not be stored or transported together with other produce which may contaminate it or otherwise adversely affect its quality.
“A vessel used for transportation of miraa shall be built and equipped to ensure maintenance of optimal temperatures and hygiene to prevent damage, contamination and spoilage of produce.”
Mr Murungi vowed to take the matter to court if the ministry moved to implement the regulations, saying his administration was not involved in formulating them.
“Agriculture is a devolved function and there is no way we can be subject to regulations that were made without our input. They are illegal, unconstitutional, null and void,” Mr Murungi said.
But a former AFA official said the agency held stakeholder meetings and county officials, including the Agriculture executive, participated.
“The governor is playing politics because when we held the final stakeholder validation meeting the county was represented. He also attended three of the earlier meetings when we talked to farmers and other stakeholders,” said Mr James Mutia, who was head of the Miraa, Pyrethrum and Industrial Crops Directorate at AFA and steered the process.
Mr Mutia resigned to contest the Igembe Central parliamentary seat under Mr Munya’s Party of National Unity (PNU).
On exports, Mr Mutia said the government would not allow commodities to be exported without attracting levies.
Some of the provisions in the rules would benefit the sector, especially in the clamour to secure more international markets, argued Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) chairman Kimathi Munjuri, who called for dialogue.
“For instance, there are provisions on how best we can ensure the produce is hygienically harvested and packaged. This will help us seek foreign markets. But if the export levy rule is implemented, it will make the trade a preserve of the rich,” Mr Munjuri said.