By Luke Anami
The persistent fights among cane millers in the Western and Nyanza sugar belts have been blamed on weak legal framework. The Sugar Arbitration Tribunal (SAT), which is supposed to resolve the disputes, is toothless in implementing its decisions, thanks to a defective Sugar Act under which it operates.
It is only recently that the Kenya Sugar Board (KSB) published rules for SAT even as players in the industry want Parliament to grant SAT powers to enforce their decisions and review the Sugar Act 2001 with a view of granting the Board jurisdiction over all the players in the sector.
“We have witnessed a lot of violence in the sugar sector yet both the ministry and KSB are silent. SAT was created to resolve sugar issues but so far, it has not been very effective. This is partly because they have no powers to implement their orders,” Saulo Busolo, former KSB chairman said.“It is high time SAT was granted the powers to arbitrate between farmers, millers, transporters, and government because there are those that want to sabotage the sugar industry.”
Sugar millers have in the past engaged in costly fights over the control of farmers in Western Kenya threatening the region’s economy, with millions of shillings already lost through cane theft and damage to machinery.
The wars pit Mumias Sugar Company Ltd and West Kenya, Chemelil, Muhoroni and Kibos Sugar, while in Ndhiwa there’s Sony Sugar verses Transmara Sugar Company and the Sukari Sugar Industries.
SAT first came into existence in 2006 following its requirement with the Sugar Act 2011. The body has three members currently appointed by Agriculture minister, Dr Sally Kosgei (pictured), one of who must be an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. They include Gregory Mutai who is the chairman, George Ayugi and Oddah Nafula O’wakhwabi.
But an amendment proposal is before Parliament to allow KSB to appoint members with consultation with the minister.
Another conflicting situation is the fact that the minister for Agriculture, the KSB and the SAT are ultimately subject to the judicial review process of the High Court. “We want the Chief Justice to direct that SAT shall have jurisdiction over all sugar disputes and only matters beyond the Tribunal should be referred to the High Court.
Further, farmers find it very expensive to take their cases to normal courts. SAT should be strengthened to handle all disputes involving farmers,” said Busolo, farmer’s representative from Nzoia sugar zone and who the Government has declined to gazette as a KSB director despite the dismissal of a case filed against his re-election.
When the sugar industry decided to set up the Sugar Arbitration Tribunal it gave it the exclusive jurisdiction to deal with, among other things, all disputes related to sugar. Specifically SAT is expected to handle disputes of an election under the Act and regulations, and specifically, disputes by a person aggrieved by the decision of a returning officer to reject his candidature or deny the right to vote.
The effect of the Act was to limit and oust the jurisdiction of the High Court in as far as the specified sugar industry disputes are concerned. But it has no jurisdiction over all the stakeholders in the industry leaving out a gap that if filled could bring sanity in the sector.