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Union threatens to block leasing of state-owned sugar factories

The Kenya Union of Sugarcane Plantation and Allied Workers (KUSPAW) has threatened to move to court to stop the process of leasing State owned sugar factories if the debt owed to workers is not cleared.

Union Secretary General (SG) Francis Wangara said the workers were owed over Sh5.5 billion yet there was no clear indication on how the debt was going to be cleared.

Though the government in October last year announced a Sh117 bailout for the struggling firms ahead of the planned leasing, the union maintains that the debt owed to workers was not captured.

Wangara said it was unfortunate that workers who have gone for years without pay have been ignored as the government rolled out the clearance of farmers’ arrears.

He said the union would not allow the government to proceed with the leasing programme until the arrears are paid adding that it would not be possible for the investors taking over the factories to take over a debt they did not incur.

“We started raising this issue a long time ago when the government planned to privatize the companies. We moved to court and blocked the process. The matter is still active in court and what we are telling the government is that we are going to revive the case and block the leasing process if the debt is not cleared,” he said.

“What we are saying is the debt owed to farmers was incurred by these factories, so is the debt owed to workers who milled the cane received from the farmers. Therefore this debt must be cleared by the government,” he added.

Addressing the media in his office in Kisumu on Tuesday, Wangara said the union was not opposed to leasing the factories but was concerned about the plight of the over 8, 000 workers in the sector who have endured alot of suffering since the firms started crumbling.

“All that we are fighting for is the rights of farmers so this should not be taken as a plot to stop government programmes. We don’t have that muscle,” he said.

Already the government has started the process of leasing five State owned sugar factories to private companies that will run the millers for 20 years.

The ministry of Agriculture and Crops Development has put up Nzoia, South Nyanza (SONY), Chemelil, Muhoroni and Miwani sugar companies for lease.

Interested investors have up to 15th February 2024 to submit their bids after which evaluation shall take place before the successful bidders are announced.

The government owns 98.8 percent stake in Sony, 97.93 percent in Nzoia, 96.22 percent in Chemelil, 82.8 percent stake in Muhoroni and 49% in Miwani.

By Chris Mahandara

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