- The Former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya-led task force came up with sterling recommendations.
- But since it was handed over to then President Uhuru Kenyatta in February 2020, nothing has been done.
Members of the National Assembly are directly responsible for the mess that continues to plague the country’s sugar industry. They have failed to enact legislation that could save the sub-sector from total collapse like cotton production did in the 1970s.
Yet the biggest irony is that the legislators have been given detailed recommendations by various task forces formed to investigate, identify and recommend possible solutions to the woes affecting the industry.
Instead, the same parliamentarians have deliberately gone out of their way to doctor the recommendations, ostensibly to serve their own personal interests and those of their shadowy masters at the expense of sugarcane farmers and millers.
It is now emerging that the Sugar Bill, 2022 which contained recommendations from several task forces and sugar industry stakeholders has been doctored by the National Assembly, particularly on the question of zoning which was the driving factor in the mess we see today and the Sugar Development Fund.
The situation is so dire that over the decades there are virtually no legislations concerning the sector that have been passed without being doctored. This is despite the MPs being armed with well researched and documented recommendations for the best way forward.
The story does not stop there. The law courts have also been turned into deadly weapons to deliberately cripple the industry, with the worst hit having been the country’s giant and only ultra-modern miller Mumias Sugar Company, which changed to Mumias Sugar 2021 Limited. Pushed to the wall with endless legal battles, President William Ruto was forced to publicly order Jaswant Rai to withdraw his legal suits against the company.
There is virtually no miller in the country who is not facing legal action from Rai either directly or through proxies because of the obvious greed to monopolise and control the multi-billion shillings sector and his ability to dictate market prices at all levels. We are talking of Nzoia, Butali, Chemilil, Sony Sugar companies, among others.
The National Assembly has over the years received well-documented petitions identifying the problems in the sugar industry and how to solve them. One has been done and defended by the Western Development Initiative Association titled “Imminent Collapse of the Sugar Industry in Western Kenya."
This gave birth to the “Crisis facing the sugar industry in Kenya” report that could have turned the sector around years ago, but as usual, some of the legislators were compromised to doctor it and water it down to suit the shadowy and sugar mafia players’ interests.
The situation became so bad that the Speaker of the last National Assembly Justin Muturi had to intervene, ordering then Agriculture committee to table the report, which had taken almost two years and which had already been doctored from the original version.
The Former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya-led task force came up with sterling recommendations. But since it was handed over to then President Uhuru Kenyatta in February 2020, nothing has been done. This is despite hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money being used on these exercises.
The famous Sugar Bill, 2022 sponsored by Navaholo MP Emmanuel Wangwe was passed in the National Assembly before being shuttled to the Senate, where it was discovered the original version of the recommended sugarcane zoning had been deliberately altered by some legislators.
The Bill in its original form had sought to put zoning of sugarcane farming under five regions: Central with (six mills), Upper Western (five mills), Lower Western (three mills), Southern (three mills) and Coastal Region (one mill).
However, it is now emerging that the altered Bill has replaced zones with five catchment areas, namely, the Rift catchment with two mills, Upper Western catchment (two mills), Lower Western catchment (five mills), Southern catchment (seven mills) and Coastal catchment (one mill).
In Western for example, the Upper Western catchment has been left for Naitiri Sugar and Nzoia while Busia, Butali, Mumias, Olepito and West Kenya have been given the Lower Western catchment to share.
Expert argue that this could be another scheme being used by Jaswant Rai to cripple Mumias Sugar yet again, not forgetting that it is still reeling from cane poaching crisis initiated by him.
It should be noted that Naitiri, which shares a whole catchment area with Nzoia, West Kenya and Olepito that have now been lumped up together with Mumias, Butali and Busia, all belong to him.
That positioning only means that Mumias Sugar, which has the largest appetite for raw sugarcane to mill per every hour, will be left with nothing, unless the Senate refuses to send the Bill to the President to sign it into law. The other option is to return it to the National Assembly for MPs to debate it in its original form, or simply return the industry to the former 47 square kilometre radius per miller.
It must not be forgotten that despite its capacities, MSC has over the years been bogged down in endless legal battles, which forced it to halt production. This is after cane from contracted sugarcane farmers was poached by Rai operatives, making it to begin production a few months ago.
The Sugarcane Manufacturers Association in its detailed report on the doctored Bill points out in detail the areas which have been interfered with that should undergo forensic amendments to help stakeholders and save the industry from total collapse.
The writer is a journalist and a media consultant, [email protected]