Sugarcane farmers have lashed out at President Uhuru Kenyatta for appointing politicians to boards of sugar companies, saying the move threatens the recovery of the ailing sector.
They said the move was a clear indication of the government’s lack of commitment to roar back to life the factories which have been run down due to what they termed as poor management and financial impropriety.
Kenya Sugarcane Growers Association (Kesga) general-secretary Richard Ogendo criticised the government for failing to involve them.
“We need to see a paradigm shift and involve farmers among other stakeholders in such boards if the country is to revive some of the collapsed companies,” he said.
He was speaking during a fact-finding mission by the National Assembly’s departmental Committee on Implementation at Chemelil Sugar.
Mr Ogendo cautioned that using state millers to reward political losers will stall reforms in the sector.
He said political interference was the biggest problem affecting the sector, which in its heyday supported thousands of farmers from the sugar belt regions.
“It is unfortunate that farmers continue to suffer at the expense of unscrupulous businessmen who use people from within to import sugar and repackage them in bags belonging to local companies while condemning farmers to abject poverty,” said Mr Ogendo.
But Mr Zedekiah Bundotich, who was appointed as the chairman of Chemelil Sugar Company, expressed confidence that he will use his professional background and experience to turn around the company which has faced myriad of issues.
“As a sales and marketing expert and a politician, I will use my network to lobby the government to address the incessant challenges facing critical stakeholders like the farmers and the staff who are owed huge amounts of money,” he said.
“I know that the company currently owes workers and farmers Sh200 million after the government issued a Sh300 million bailout last year,” he said.
Mr Bundotich unsuccessfully vied for Uasin Gishu governor seat against Jubilee candidate Jackson Mandago in last year’s general election.
Also in the Chemelil board are former University of Nairobi student leader David Osiany, who contested for the Rongo parliamentary seat and lost to ODM’s Paul Abuor, and Atieno Otieno who vied for Kisumu’s gubernatorial position on a Jubilee party ticket.
At Sony Sugar Company, Mr Owino Likowa who served as Migori MP is the chair. Other politicians in the board include immediate former Awendo MP Jared K’Opiyo, Nyamira politician James Maganda, Ms Doris Donya from Kisii and Ms Winnie Njuguna who was Kirinyaga Woman Rep.
Mrs Anne Anyanga who unsuccessfully vied for Migori governor’s seat in 2013 and 2017 has also been appointed as a board member at Nzoia Sugar Company.
Mr Ogendo told the committee chaired by Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta to curb irregular importation to protect the dumping of sugar into the Kenyan market.
The committee is following up on the report released by the House Agriculture committee in 2015 to ensure key proposals on how to revive public sugar mills are implemented.
During their three-day tour of western Kenya, the team visited Mumias, Chemelil, Muhoroni, Miwani and Sony Sugar companies.
Muhoroni MP Onyango Koyoo called on the government to empower the Kenya National Trading Corporation to be the only agency allowed to import sugar.
“We should not allow entities and individuals with vested interests to take over the business of sugar importation,” he said.
Chemelil Sugar MD Gabriel Nyangweso raised concerns that arbitrary importation of sugar has left them with a growing stockpile of unsold sugar, as imports undercut local prices.
Mr Kenta assured farmers that the committee will ensure implementation of the 2015 report.
“We are also going to work with other government agencies like the Assets Recovery Agency to ensure individuals who plundered public resources return them,” he said.