BY WABWOBA MUKHAMULE WALINYWA
The much publicized sale of the now defunct Pan Paper Mills in Webuye recently renamed Rai Paper for a paltry price of ksh 900 million was to say the least weird and indeed a raw deal for the people of Bungoma and indeed other stakeholders in Western Kenya plus the Nation at large.
Suffice it to say that any operational activity at the reopened factory will re-engineer the much needed economic
activity and re-awakening of the now dormant and sleepy town of Webuye, it is my considered opinion and indeed the view of other stakeholders in this region that the deal was not above board as it leaves more questions than answers to the problem.
At the outset, it is important to understand that way back in 1972 when Pan paper was commissioned, ample facilities were made available to it ensure that the fledgling Industry thrives at a time when there were numerous opportunities for advancement. The worst enemy to the progress that was expected has been and to date remains corruption which continues bedevil not only the Paper Industry but the whole Nation at large..
With land in Nairobi worth ksh 1.3 billion at Kaptagat in Uasin Gishu Country, and Buildings and land in Webuye also valued in millions, it cannot be gain said that the ksh 900 million sale literally means that the Paper Mill was sold for a song and there is indeed no other way to explain it except the same dreaded monster called corruption which is a major suspect and must have been at play here.
The people of Bungoma like any other tax payers across the Republic are entitled to fair play in the implementation of Government owned projects like the Paper Mill as it should not be lost to observers that other Business enterprises where Government and therefore the people of Kenya have a stake in have enjoyed better Government patronage and support than the nebulous exercise which the former Pan Paper has been subjected to at the expense of locals.
A number of interventions have been made by Government to salvage sinking and sometime financially strapped Corporations in which Tax payer funds have been invested in the past and cases in point are Uchumi Supermarkets, Kenya Airways plus the Coffee Farmers debts to mention but just a few .
This brings us to the contents of a recent article penned by the Communication Secretary of President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi Mr. Manoah Esipisu in which he enumerated a number of issue s which he claimed were the benefits that are already being derived from the re-opening of the Paper Mill particularly for Webuye people.
According to Mr. Manoah Esipisu the reopening of the Paper Mill is a major game changer in Bungoma County and Western region of the Nation as whole . This is really far from the truth as there are number of outstanding matters which for unknown reasons Mr. Esipisu either deliberately ignored or was not in picture of the same.
On the other hand since the Paper Mill was re-opened , there is no noticeable hiring of staff as promised by the New Owners who had pledged to employ Five(500) staff upfront while at the same time they promised to embark on immediate production of Paper and it is not the case as I write. Unconfirmed reports reveal that contrary to the direct re-hiring of former Pan paper employees, the New owners who also have interests in the nearby West Kenya Sugar Factory, have been bringing in at least 300 casual workers from the Sugar Factory or from the Bungoma County Government.
As for production of paper, information available so far indicates that since it was re-opened , the factory has been recycling used paper to make the paper for manufacturing cartons contrary to initial expectations for direct production of paper is yet to begin. There is further information that the used paper for recycling is brought in from West Kenya Sugar Factory whose owners as stated above are said to have interests in new Rai Paper formerly Pan Paper.
Against the much touted “progress” which Rai Paper is expected to bring to Webuye and its environs once fully operational, there is however the nagging question of Environmental degradation by the now defunct Pan paper but which has never been addressed since the time when the factory stopped production.
It is therefore inevitable that under this n e w Management and operation of the Paper Mill, NEMA should move fast to address the outstanding environmental issues in order to protect the people in Webuye town from long and many years of suffering that has seen among other things roofs literally corroded away by chemicals while effluents emitted into the nearby Nzoia River have also caused untold havoc to the eco-system round Webuye.
Wabwoba Mukhamule Walinywa – Is a Media and Public Affairs Consultant based in Bungoma County.