KAKAMEGA, Kenya, Nov 24 — Mumias Sugar Company workers and sugarcane farmers have accused Sarrai Group of failing to honour its promises to pay their dues.
The workers and farmers who converged outside the sugar miller premises said the Uganda-based firm has not paid salary arrears and sugarcane supplied about three years ago despite promising to do so.
“Mumias collapsed when I had just supplied sugarcane worth Sh340, 000 in 2018 June. When Sarrai Group and KCB came in, they sat down with us farmers and promised to pay our dues but that has never happened.
“I now don’t have money to maintain my 20-acre piece of land that has sugarcane. I have suffered to an extend I cannot pay school fees for my children,” one of the farmers said.
The farmers said when Sarrai Group took over operations of the miller, it promised to help farmers.
“If they have any agreement they have signed with farmers, then I don’t know which farmers those are because we live here and we are the ones with sugarcane. Let Sarrai show us the list of farmers they are working with because from my house to the factory is just three kilometers,” the farmer added.
The farmers further said despite Sarrai claiming to have started operating the sugar miller, no Mumias Sugar brands are available in shops and supermarkets.
“We don’t know where they are taking the sugar they claim to be producing daily. I think it is all lies because they have abandoned workers from this area and imported theirs from Uganda,” the farmer stated.
Patrick Mutimba, the Chairperson of a Mumias Sugar employees caucus, said Sarrai Group has locked them out of the premises despite owing them millions of shillings in salary arrears.
“Workers have been chased from their houses despite labour laws saying you cannot be locked out of your place of work until all your dues have been paid.
“We have not been paid since 2019. Our children have dropped out of school and they are now chasing us away from the servants’ quarters and we do not have money to pay rent elsewhere. Sarrai cannot even allow us to have our meeting inside Mumias factory,” Mutimba said.
The workers also accused Sarrai Group of breaching agreement that would have seen former workers retained at the company.
They said the agreement signed in December 2021 required Sarrai to absorb former employees once they take over.
“Sarrai Group had agreed to retain the workers and pay them their dues. The workers here are also farmers. They come from this community. Why is the company sidelining them and they are the ones who make this factory operational? “If they are not criminals, why are they operating in darkness. What are they hiding?” one of the workers posed.
The farmers also accused local politicians whom they claimed have colluded with Sarrai Group to frustrate them.
“We have seen Boni Khalwale inside Mumias Sugar factory saying the factory is operating. If it is operating, where is the sugar the factory is producing? It is all lies,” one of the farmers said.
The protests come two months after Sarrai Group was blocked by appellate court from operating at the sugar mill.
The gag order will be valid until a case lodged against it is heard and determined.
The ruling meant Sarrai remained locked out of Mumias Sugar premises.
In their ruling on September 23, three appellate court judges said the applicants had demonstrated an appeal which will be rendered nugatory in case the execution is not stayed during the hearing of the case.
“In the upshot, the notice of motion dated 27th April 2022 is allowed to the extent only that there will be stay of execution of the ruling dated 14th April 2022,” the judges ruled.
In the April ruling, the High Court judge Justice Alfred Mabeya cancelled Sarrai lease to operate Mumias Sugar Company, ordered it to leave the premises and removed Ponangipali Venkata Ramana Rao as the Administrator of the company.
Mabeya further appointed Kereto Marima as the new administrator of Mumias Sugar Company and ordered Rao to hand over the company to Marima.
“This court has considered the allegations made against the leasing process. Rao awarded the lease to the lowest bidder (Sarrai Group) while there were higher bidders, without giving any justifiable explanation,” the judge ruled.