Leaders demand inclusion in Yala Swamp takeover

Part of the Dominion Farm in Siaya County. [Denish Ochieng', Standard]

Two MPs have demanded their inclusion in talks for the takeover of the expansive Yala Swamp farming project abandoned by an American investor a few months ago.

Bondo’s Gideon Ochanda and Sam Atandi of Alego Usonga claimed that Rai Group of Companies had secretly taken over the multi-billion farming conglomerate.

The project had been under American firm Dominion Group since 2002 when it signed a 25-year lease with the then Siaya and Bondo county councils.

However, the company stopped its operations and relocated to the US citing poor working environment, in the process leaving behind huge debts including salary arrears.

Receiver manager

Mr Ochanda and Mr Atandi, who spoke in Siaya town yesterday, claimed the Rai group had entered a partnership with Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) that taken over the Dominion farms through a receiver manager a few months ago.

Ochanda said KCB got into the agreement by selling off 12 years of the lease period that Dominion Group had not used by the time of its departure.

“According to information I have, KCB has entered into an arrangement or partnership and sold off the period that was not used by Dominion. This means the bank will give the land to the Rai Group of Companies during the remaining time,” said Ochanda.

Atandi said: “Rai Group of Companies is indeed the new owner of Dominion Farm. So far, they have sorted staff issues such as salary arrears. Remittances of statutory deductions are also being sorted out.”

Atandi, in whose constituency the swamp is located, said: “They are taking over for the remaining period after Dominion left. They are coming in through the receiver manager and consultations between them and the county will begin shortly.”

The Rai Holdings is a family business that owns West Sugar Limited. The group also holds a major stake in a Ugandan sugar company. However, the Rai group, through West Sugar general manager Gerald Okoth, has denied taking over Dominion farms.

This was despite his announcement last month that the miller would clear salary areas for 350 workers left behind by Dominion.

Mr Okoth had told  the media they entered an agreement with Dominion to take over a sugarcane plantation the American firm left behind.

Enabling environment

He said they paid the workers to create an enabling environment for cane harvesting.

Okoth denied that planning to have a meeting with the county government over the alleged full takeover of the farm. He also denied claims by the MPs that they were in talks with receiver managers appointed by KCB over the ownership of the farm.

“Our only interest with the Dominion Farms is the sugarcane plantation,” said Okoth.

Governance executive George Rubiik told The Standard that KCB, through its Kisumu branch officials, met with Governor Cornel Rasanga and other county officials over the farms.

He, however, said the county government had not met the Rai Group of Companies. “They wanted to meet us but we asked them to wait until the governor returns from an oversees trip,” said Mr Rubiik.

Ochanda and Atandi said the county government must involve them in the operations of Yala Swamp and in any major decisions about the farm.

“Anything involving Yala swamp involves the whole community. The county government must consult all the leaders to avoid the kind of problems experienced when the Dominion Group was sneaked in,” said Ochanda.