Several leaders have said they will push for the revival of the cash-strapped Nzoia Sugar Company by the government.
Reviving the company will be the best way for President William Ruto to reward residents for supporting him during the August 9 elections.
The leaders, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, area governor Ken Lusaka, and MPs Dan Wanyama (Webuye West), Majimbo Kalasinga (Kabuchai), and John Makali (Kanduyi), on Friday, said they will ensure the miller gets back to its feet, "now that we are in the government".
The leaders who spoke when they hosted Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi in Bungoma town said Nzoia Sugar is key to the region's economy which sustained thousands of families hence the need for its revamping.
“The factory is about 30 years old and has been the economic jewel of the region which should not be left to collapse. It's good we are in government and have a listening president who has promised to find a lasting solution to its bailout," said Wetang’ula.
“The only viable solution from our assessment and after talking to the company’s management is to get a new plant as the current one has is archaic,” he said.
Mr Wanyama blamed the National Treasury for allegedly interfering with the firm’s revival plans in the past.
The lawmaker said he is optimistic President Ruto will direct Treasury to act decisively towards the revival of the factory which owes workers and farmers some Sh700 million.
“We passed a motion to write off the debts of the company in the Nation Assembly but the National Treasury was reluctant to effect it. If they had acted as expected, then the collateral that the company owed creditors-including machine parts would be returned and the factory would be on a better footing today,” he said.
Mr Wanyama urged CS Linturi to appoint a new board of management to run the company which has been operating without a substantive board for years.
Nzoia sugar has been struggling to sustain its 751 permanent employees and another 2,000 casuals.
The sugar mill has also been unable to pay farmers promptly with Mr Wanyama regretting that that firm has normalised delayed payment for cane deliveries and salaries. The MP said the workers have gone without pay for ten months.
Mr Linturi said he was new in the ministry to make quick fixes as was being demanded by the leaders and workers' representatives.
Nonetheless, the CS committed to looking into the ailing sugar factory’s woes and helping it return to profitability.
“I am committed just like the president is to reviving this factory, allow me to familiarise myself with the reports that document its troubles and I come back soon to offer a lasting solution. Just know that Nzoia’s troubles are temporary with me at the helm of the Agriculture ministry,” said Linturi.
Nzoia Sugar Company managing director Crispin Omondi said the factory, with a sugarcane crushing capacity of 3,000 tons of cane per day was of poor mechanical shape and had gone long without routine maintenance.
The factory currently requires 15 tonnes of cane to produce just one ton of sugar leading to losses according to Dr Omondi.
Usually, ten tonnes of sugarcane should be able to produce one tonne of sugarcane for the factory to make a profit according to Dr Omondi.
Challenges bedevilling the Nzoia sugar that was established in 1978 saw former Kanduyi MP draft legislation seeking to have state-owned sugar factories receive financial support from the government.
The Sugar Bill which was passed by both the National assembly and the senate proposes a raft of reforms like the gazettement of the sugar sector regulations including import rules, amendment of the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) Act, and Crops Act in line with the Constitution.
It also proposes strict compliance with the COMESA regulations and outlined a raft of measures needed to increase the sugar sector's productivity, and a review of the taxation regime in the sector to enhance investor incentives.
Last year the government pumped some Sh 500 million to help the course of its revival.
Some Sh284 million went towards offsetting a portion of the farmers’ debts and Sh 216 million went to factory maintenance.