After a lengthy fight, a change of guard is now expected at the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) with the election of new board members concluded.
The long-serving chairman, Peter Kanyago, has been replaced by David Mune Ichocho, while Dr Wesley Koech has taken over as vice chairman, replacing Philip Ngetich. The company secretary’s position has been taken by Patrick Ngunjiri, a lawyer who has been campaigning for tea reforms and acting for farmers, and has replaced Mr John Omanga.
While Mr Kanyago and Mr Ngetich have been at the helm of the tea body for over two decades, it is not clear whether they will go without a fight – after the State supported changes to rid the tea sector of cartels and collusion between buyers and brokers.
Reforms at the tea sector have been hit by intrigues and court cases – as the previous board kept reformists and the Ministry of Agriculture busy at the courts where it has filed various cases.
The new KTDA directors had vowed to withdraw all the cases – which have cost the tea farmers millions of shillings in legal costs.
“This is the task ahead of us. We have to clean up the house,” said Mr Ngunjiri, the incoming company secretary.
In the cases, the tea factories, which are independent companies, had been enjoined as litigants by their agents, in a circus that exposed the collusion between the KTDA headquarters and the factory directors in stopping the reforms.
While President Kenyatta signed the Tea Act, 2020 into law, Justice Anthony Mrima, a High Court judge, suspended some provisions of the law, pending full hearing, after Kenya Tea Growers Association(KTGA) argued that Sections 36, 48, and 53 of the Tea Act, were unconstitutional.
The companies that filed the case include James Finlay, Kapchorua Tea Plc Ltd, Kipkebe Ltd, Nandi Tea Estates, Williamson Tea Plc and Sotik Highlands Tea estates Ltd.
Also, the East African Tea Trade Association challenged section 34(4) of the Act which deals with the brokerage commission that farmers are supposed to pay arguing that it was silent on the percentage of payments to be borne by the tea buyers and tea factories.
The law, which came into effect on January 11, 2021, had outlawed sales of tea outside the auction floor after farmers complained that the direct sales were being used by brokers and cartels to swindle farmers.
When the government tried to oppose the cases, through the Agriculture and Food Authority (Afa), some 50 factories led by Mungania Tea Factory opposed an application by Afa to be enjoined arguing that the regulator has no legal footing to oppose the case since it lacks board members to authorise it.
The KTDA lawyers had argued that various sections of the Tea Act infringed on several laws including the Companies Act, the Law of Contract, the Crops Act and the Competition Act.
While the court cases slowed down the reform process, the government asked the Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Dr Fred Matiang’i and his Agriculture counterpart, Peter Munya, to assist the farmers at the factory level to hold director elections in accordance with the Tea Act 2020.
It was through these elections that most of the KTDA old-guards were either voted out or they simply kept off. Attempts by factory managers to sabotage the take-over saw the government ask the County Commissioners to assist the new boards.
With the elections at the various zones concluded, focus had turned on the leadership of KTDA Holdings whose shareholders are the tea factories.
“This is the biggest coup by the farmers that has ever been witnessed. The fight was worth every drop of sweat,” said Irungu Nyakera, who is the chairman of a Task Force selected by Mr Munya to advice on the tea pricing.
With great expectations ahead, the farmers have been pushing for forensic audit of the KTDA managed factories and also of KTDA subsidiaries where billions of shillings are thought to have been wasted.