President Uhuru Kenyatta has continued with his charm offensive to bring on board the vote-rich Western region to support his legacy agenda.
On Wednesday, the president hosted leaders from the region at State House, Nairobi, where a raft of issues were discussed.
The meeting brought together governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Wilbur Ottichilo (Vihiga), Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia). Other leaders present were Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli.
Oparanya is a close ally of ODM leader Raila Odinga and is the deputy party leader while Atwoli is one of the leading proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
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Western largely voted for National Super Alliance (Nasa) in the last General Election. ODM has three governors out of the four in the region, while Wangamati belongs to Ford Kenya.
Details of their meeting show that Uhuru made some commitments to start new projects and complete unfinished ones.
To start with, he directed National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani to waive millions of shillings Mumias Sugar Company owes the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) in tax.
To further revive the ailing sugar industry in the region, the president said his government will soon write off over Sh60 billion debts owed by sugar milling firms in Western Kenya.
“The issue to write off the debts is a done deal because it has already received Cabinet approval,” said Wamalwa.
Besides, President Kenyatta directed that Sh85 million be released by the National Treasury to clear debts owed to sugarcane farmers by ailing Mumias Sugar Company.
Wamalwa and Oparanya, who were recently picked to spearhead the economic development agenda in the region, said the president would like to give the struggling sugar industry a new lease of life.
“We agreed that the national government should undertake many projects in the region. These include completion of privatisation or leasing of Nzoia Sugar Company and completion of commercialisation by attracting a strategic investor in Mumias Sugar Company, which is under receivership,” Oparanya said.
The deal to revive the sugar industry was also extended to the neighbouring Nyanza region where Miwani, Muhoroni, Chemelil and Sony Sugar companies have been lined up for leasing. A task force set up to rescue the crippled sector in 2019 recommended privatisation of State-owned factories.
“We discussed at length issues to do with the sugar sector and the Head of State believes writing off the hefty debts running into billions of shillings will help revamp the industry for the benefit of our people,” Wamalwa said.
The government gazetted new industry regulations last month and the president is reported to be closely following the progress of the Sugar Bill that is on the floor of the National Assembly.
Wamalwa said the write-off is aimed at attracting private investors to buy into the sugar firms and plough much needed capital to prepare them for regional and international competition.
With the impending Cabinet reshuffle, the leaders also appealed to Uhuru to consider sons and daughters from the region, arguing that the area has largely been ignored in terms of appointments.
“We presented several names of those who should be appointed to the Cabinet and other national organisations. We appreciated that Eugene is ours but he is from Trans Nzoia in the Rift Valley," a source who attended the meeting said.