The arrival of Nashon Aseka as the chief executive officer of Mumias Sugar Company has seen renewed hope amongst farmers and other major stakeholders in the sugar industry and it has been widely welcomed as a step in the right direction in as far as the resuscitation of the sugar sector is concerned.
His arrival comes as the management is in talks with two banks, Barclays and EcoBank not to sell the firm after failure to clear mega loans running into billions of shillings. The banks have received court orders to auctioan the once top sugar miller, thus raising eyebrows.
According to records at MSC, the major companies paid from the first trench of the government subsidy to bring the company back to its feet are Ima Haulers, Agroline Transporters, CAC, Chabadia Miners and Mayoni Transporters.
A source said records at the internal audit were either stolen or destroyed and the unit dissolved when Dan Ameyo was the company’s chairman. The money for subsidy from the government for payment to MSC farmers is said to have been paid to companies associated with Ameyo and Mumias East MP, Benjamin Washiali.
“When the government released the first bailout to MSC, the board led by Ameyo went into a frenzy, paying off friendly companies and some Asian transporters who would eventually give kickbacks were also given priority in the payment madness”.
Nevertheless, we have since established that the management is in talks with the two banks trying to reach a compromise in solving the issue amicably. A contractor who had refused to hand over a multimillion building due to pending bills is also understood to be in talks with the top brass at the miller to resolve the matter.
MSC, Kenya’s leading sugar miller has gradually fallen from grace to grass in the past three years or so, with every change of management being the order of the day in concerted efforts to bring it back to life.
The appointment of Aseka, who served in the company as factory manager at the time when the company was doing well was unceremoniously forced to leave the company under unclear circumstances and little did he know that he would bounce back as the CEO.
At a meeting with workers of the company, Aseka asserted that his main focus was not only to return the company to the profit – making bracket, but to make sure that the producer of the raw material and the farmer benefitted hugely from their sweat of planting sugarcane. “Bettering the lives of the farmers has been a song for every management and if you will not help me towards this end, you have no option but to leave,” he said.
Addressing the workers when he took over as the CEO, Aseka stressed that the company needed government assistance more than ever before and not mere bailouts and urged other institutions and lenders who are determined to raise the economy of the sugar growing counties to chip in.
Aseka, seemingly non aligned politically, said the main aim now was to make sure that the farmer plants cane and is helped in the process from a consolidated fund yet to be set up by the company whose function will base on cane development and farm inputs like fertiliser and recovery at reasonable rates unlike in the past.
The CEO said he had started running a sensitisation programme where selected farmers can produce cane as MSC rejuvenates its nuclear section that is almost departed.
Observers in the sugar industry have predicted that the future of the company looks brighter under the new CEO and his chairman Kennedy Ngumbau only if local support is guaranteed despite the fact that there will be attempts by past groups and lobbies that will start creeping back in the company to push selfish, personal interests and concerns at the whims of other companies.
Lobby group Bunge La Haki through its secretary general Musa Ekaya welcomed the board’s decision, saying a local who had worked at the company and has the touch of the local farmers’ needs.
Aseka is taking over the company at a time when local leaders are questioning the whereabouts of Sh200 million from Kakamega county towards the payment of farmers at the company but which allegedly ended up in the pockets of businessman Patrick Shibutse, the proprietor of Mumias Traders Company.
The money is said to have been allegedly taken back to the county accounts with an MCA from Matungu as a conduit and contact person who faked lists of ghost farmers that were claimed to have been paid the money. This anomaly has put Governor Wycliffe Oparanya on the spotlight in his reelection bid as governor of Kakamega.
Another issue at hand is the licensing of Shikunga weighbridge by the Oparanya administration in total disregard of sugar governing rules and regulations which state that a firm can only be given licence to weigh cane if it has developed its own crop.
Unlike Mumias Sugar Company who are developing their own cane in the nucleus, Shikunga weighbridge has continuously preyed on MSC cane and selling it to other companies.