By Nephat Kinyua
If first impressions are anything to go by, then newly appointed Nzoia Sugar Company Managing Director CPA Michael Makokha Wanjala’s act of reading the riot act to the company’s employees in his first week on the job points to what some may consider a new dawn at one of Kenya’s leading sugar producers.
Speaking at the company premises in Bungoma County, Wanjala presented himself to the Nzoia workforce as the no nonsense new sherif in town, warning that if there had been any luck luster individuals within the company’s payroll, then it was time for them to either up their game or face the sack.
“We have been entrusted with responsibilities by the people and government of Kenya,” Wanjala said. “It therefore cannot be that we are here earning a salary while abdicating on the monumental tasks of producing adequate, high quality sugar and paying our farmers their hard earned money on time. We cannot and will not fail in those two cardinal responsibilities.”
For a long time now, the company has had a huge backlog of pending bills, that coupled with the slow paced payment of suppliers.This has been attributed to a number of cash flow challenges faced by the larger sugar sector, with rumour mills predicting a government bailout for Nzoia.
Concerning the huge sums owed to cane farmers, Wanjala urged for patience, assuring stakeholders that his will be an accountable and transparent reign where the farmer will be highly prioritized.
“As a resident of Bungoma County, I personally relate to the woes faced by our farmers,” he said. “It will therefore be a huge betrayal on my part to both the appointing authority, His Excellency the President, and to the farmers, if I fail to stabilize operations and ensure harmony is restored and maintained going forward.”
CPA Wanjala’s sentiments came barely a week after Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa expressed confidence that given the right support, the new MD had the ability, intellectual and otherwise, to bring Nzoia’s fortunes to where the Bungoma farmer has always desired.
“I can vouch that the new MD is focused, energetic and committed,” the Cabinet Secretary said of Wanjala. “If he continues on the result oriented trajectory we have known him for, he will lead Nzoia up and forward. I would encourage the various industry players to give him the requisite cooperation as he sets forth, so that there can be proper synergy. We are convinced that he has what it takes.”
Elsewhere, a host of Bungoma County leaders hit out at Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri on what they said were suspicions on the privatization of the sugar miller.Led by Bungoma Senator Hon.Moses Wetang’ula,the legislators warned that anyone with such intentions would meet their full wrath and that of the farmers.
While Welcoming the appointment of the new MD, Senator Wetang’ula appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to honour a Shs300 million pledge he gave the cash strapped factory.”Any attempt to sell the sugar factory to a private miller is not welcome and what is needed is the President honouring the Shs300m pledge to help in restoring full operations of the factory”Senator Wetang’ula said.
Kanduyi MP Hon.Wafula Wamunyinyi stressed that the local leadership is committed to ensure the factory remains in the hands of farmers.
“Even if it means fighting from here to heaven,” Wamunyinyi said, “we will do so to protect Nzoia. We will not allow any private entities to come and take over the land that Nzoia sits on.”
Supporting similar sentiments by Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa and Yatta’s Charles Kilonzo, Senate Speaker and former Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka lauded the appointment of Wanjala as the new MD, urging the county’s residents to give the new Nzoia leadership a chance.
“We now have a new MD who comes from Bungoma,” Lusaka said. “What we want to see going forward is the prioritization of farmers. Farmers must be paid first, then suppliers and everyone else should be paid later. That is the only way we will encourage our farmers not to abandon cane farming. I have faith that the new leadership will heed this call.”
In voicing his support for the appointment of the new MD,Senator for Kakamega and Deputy Senate minority leader Hon.Cleophas Malala exuded confidence in the leadership credentials of Makokha Wanjala.”With this kind of personel,we have faith that you are going to turn around the fortunes of Nzoia and as a leadership we assure you full support.”said Senator Malala.
At the time of his appointment,the firm and charismatic yet soft spoken Wanjala worked was deputy CEO at the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), the profession’s regulatory body.
The triple strips of him having been in high level student leadership, the fact that he was an accountant and a leading light within ICPAK and that he is originally from Bungoma County, might just be the sort of combination needed for Nzoia at this time as local leaders, farmers and suppliers remain jittery about what happens next.
The ball is now in Wanjala’s court, for him to prove that Nzoia is indeed redeemable, and that he has what it takes to turn around the fortunes of one of Bungoma’s most important industries and Kenya’s second largest sugar producer.
It will be interesting to assess Wanjala’s 100 days in office, to see if he has sustained the same gusto exhibited during his first week on the job. He joins veteran politician Joash Wamangoli, another Bungoma resident, who is serving as the chairman of Nzoia’s Board of Directors.
The writer is a former student leader at the University of Nairobi and currently works in project management.