Counties leaders demand higher stake in tea estate sale

A tea plantation in Kericho County. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Leaders from Kericho and Bomet counties have raised fresh demands regarding the sale of Lipton tea estates to Sri Lanka's Browns Investment PLC.

This follows a four-hour closed-door meeting with the management of the multinational tea company.

The leaders said the community will settle for a share more than the 15 per cent offered.

Speaking to the media after the meeting held at Lipton's International Conference Center, the leaders further demanded a survey of the Lipton tea estate and an increase in land rates, among other pertinent issues.

Bomet Senator Hillary Sigei, who read the resolutions of the meeting, announced that a ten-member committee had been formed to spearhead consultations and provide a way forward on the issues within 21 days.

"The committee has been tasked to negotiate for the enhancement of the offer of shareholding to Kericho and Bomet residents from 15 per cent to any higher or better percentage depending on how the shareholding would go," he said.

Sigei added that the committee will also determine whether the enhanced 15 per cent shares will be jointly owned by the county governments of Kericho and Bomet, a consortium of cooperatives from the two counties, or a hybrid arrangement.

The Senator further stated that the committee is expected to provide its position on how the Sh1 billion Endowment Fund announced by Lipton during the signing of the deal with Browns can be possibly enhanced and into what kind of investment it will be channelled to support future local community investments.

Sigei said the committee will provide its report by June 7th.

"Thereafter, the team will be expected to guide on public participation so that Kericho and Bomet residents and the entire Kipsigis community will understand what the sale entails and how the community interest is protected," he said.

Senate Leader of Majority Aaron Cheruiyot allayed fears that their efforts were in vain since the deal between Lipton and Browns was already concluded.

"Any business transaction is subject to the applicable laws. I know for a fact that the competition authority has yet to give its approval for this transaction. That is where we shall take our concerns if they are not accommodated in the transaction," he said.

Cheruiyot added that multinational tea firms would also be required to respond to the long list of grievances by the local residents, such as land resurvey, low land rates, and employment opportunities, among other issues.

"We feel like there is no better time to negotiate than now when the transaction between Lipton and Browns is still ongoing," he said.

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai stated that his administration would require up to a 50 per cent share allocation in the sale agreement.

“The land rates paid are also very low and will require to be hiked, and employment opportunities must be offered to local residents," he said.

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