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Disputed lease for five millers to proceed

Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya with Kisumu governor Anyang Nyongo and Kenya Union of Sugarcane Planters and Allied Workers secretary general Francis Wangara during the signing of an agreement to resolve the sugar mills leasing plans in Kisumu. (Collins Oduor, Standard)

The controversial deal to lease out five cash-strapped State owned sugar factories got a major boost after a workers' union that went to court to stop the process withdrew the case.

The case had threatened to stall the process, with politicians, including ODM leader Raila Odinga, taking a swipe at the workers and the Judiciary for halting the process.

Kenya Union of Sugar Plantation and Allied Workers (Kuspaw) had objected to the lease of Chemelil, Muhoroni, Miwani, Nzoia and Sony Sugar millers to a private dealer.

They argued that the firms owed their members salaries running into billions of shillings and that they (union) had been sidelined in the leasing deal.

But yesterday Kuspaw signed a memorandum of understanding with Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Kisumu’s Anyang Nyong’o to withdraw the case.

The union was represented by its secretary general Francis Wangara, who said they would withdraw the case once the secretary general is gazetted as part of the leasing committee.

It is, however, unclear whether Mr Wangara sought the blessings of his union members before getting into the agreement.

Wangara explained that the union was focused on seeing the process completed to help breathe life into the struggling millers.

“We have agreed that our union is also going to be included at that table, then the process can be completed,” he said.

In the signed deal, the parties also agreed that the millers will pay the workers' pending salaries, and in case they fail to do so, then the government would take over.

Mr Oparanya described the plans to lease the factories as a major breakthrough in the quest to revive the sugar industry and the regions’ economy.

“The union has a valid case of salary arrears and statutory deductions that require to be considered during the leasing process,” said Oparanya.

In an affidavit filed before the Labour Court, Wangara had claimed that although leasing was a good idea, the workers were not sure on how their plight would be addressed.

Raila later described the court ruling as a threat to development, coming at a time the government was working to stabilise the economy.

“We have heard a fruitful discussion and we have agreed with the union on the way forward,” said Prof Nyong’o.

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