The controversy that has rocked ongoing efforts to revive Mumias Sugar Company deepened on Friday when area governor Wycliffe Oparanya clashed with former employees after asking them to vacate the firm's houses.
The ex-workers vowed to fight the fresh bid to kick them out until they are paid all their dues owed to them by the company.
The former employees, living in Booker Estate in Mumias West constituency, said they will only move out after they have been paid.
According to Oparanya, Sarrai Group, the Uganda firm that took over the operations of the miller last December after winning a bid to lease its assets, should be allowed to decide who lives in the houses.
“You are indeed taking us backward in the journey of reviving of Mumias Sugar. All we need is to give the new investor ample time to run the business. What is it that you are doing in the houses when the company went down three years ago?” the governor told the employees during a rally in Mumias town.
The governor said Sarrai Group has super revival plans for the troubled miller. He said the investor has already renovated the crushing machines and tilled the nucleus estate farms.
Oparanya noted that Mumias Sugar supported the livelihoods of thousands of people in the county and asked residents and former employees to support the new investor rather than frustrate him through court cases and protests.
But the hundreds of former employees who live in the about 1,500 houses belonging to the factory, vowed to stay put saying they will not allow anyone to force them out, and went ahead to stage demonstrations.
“The governor has said that we will be chased from the houses but where will we go? We are not against the investor’s plan to revive the company. We are only waiting for the company to pay us our outstanding dues so we can leave in peace,” said Vitalis Sand who worked as a technician at the factory’s workshop.
Justus Ouma, also a former employee, said they had stayed in the houses as "loyal employees of Mumias" in the hope that when the firm is finally revived, they would be absorbed.
“We are not thieves. We are not against the investor. Let them pay us and we will go,” he said.
Ouma asked the governor and the new management of Mumias not to mistreat its former workers.
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When Ponangipalli Venkata Ramana Rao took over as receiver-manager in September 2019, he allowed about 800 workers to continue occupying the houses in the hope they would be absorbed when the miller is up and running.
On Thursday, the employees took to the streets in protests saying the Sarrai Group was forcing them out of the houses and that they were being bypassed "in the ongoing hiring at the factory".
However, Stephen Kihumba, the New Mumias operations manager, said: “That is not the correct position. The truth is we have not asked any of the employees to move out. We are also not hiring. We stopped everything following the court order asking us to freeze operations.”
“I think the demos could be a result of a mere assumption or maybe someone incited them,” Kihumba said as he called for tolerance as the cases surrounding the revival of the company are being heard, exuding confidence that all would be well.
Kihumba said they have about 8,600 applications ahead of the start of the recruitment process.
This month, the county government filed a suit in court seeking to stop Tumaz and Tumaz Enterprises from interfering with Sarrai Group.