Growing unease over alleged plans to privatise Mumias and Nzoia sugar companies has seen politicians allied to both the government and opposition sides in Western region close ranks in a rare show of unity, vowing to resist any attempt to sell off the public firms to private interests.
This follows the recent approval by the administration of President William Ruto of the Privatisation Bill, 2023 that seeks to bypass parliamentary approval in the sale of public companies.
Saying the plan will be counterproductive as it only seeks to advance the interests of “corruption cartels”, Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale noted that the ailing sugar sector can only be saved by blocking the importation of cheap sugar into the local market rather than through privatisation of the millers.
Dr Khalwale was, however, quick to add that his opposition to the sale of the millers should not be misconstrued to mean disrespect to President Ruto, who is his party leader in the United Democratic Alliance.
Voicing similar concerns, Opposition Senators Godfrey Osotsi (Vihiga) and Edwin Sifuna (Nairobi) vowed to oppose the Bill once it is tabled in Parliament.
Speaking separately, Mr Osotsi and Mr Sifuna charged that the plan is a well-orchestrated scheme designed to benefit a few individuals at the expense of thousands of residents who rely on sugarcane farming.
Mr Osotsi pointed out that the land on which the two millers sit is community-owned and locals have a right to be involved in any plan to sell the properties.
Citing the Webuye Pan Paper Mills that was privatised but its revival has remained in limbo, Mr Osotsi said buyers would only be interested in getting the land and other assets rather than reviving the factories for the benefit of the residents.
Mr Sifuna accused some top government officials, who hail from the region, of failing to defend and articulate issues affecting the community.
He said the officials have kept quiet at a time when “their people are being oppressed”.
Last month, Mumias, Butali and West Kenya sugar companies announced new prices per tonne for sugar delivered to their factories. Mumias and West Kenya set the price at Sh5,250 per tonne while Butali said it will be buying cane at Sh5,200 per tonne.
Lauding the development, Dr Khalwale said the presence of different sugar millers in the region has introduced beneficial competition in the pricing of the raw materials.
This, he said, will be beneficial to local farmers, who have in the past suffered from low pricing for their cane.
“This is what we want to see, not aiding a few people [to enrich themselves] under the guise of privatisation,” said Dr Khalwale.