Atiak sugarcane out-growers seek pay

Amuru District chairman Michael Lakony (left) speaks to National Agriculture Advisory Services executive director Samuel Mugasi at Atiak Sufar Factory in 2021. PHOTO / TOBBIAS JOLLY

What you need to know:

  • The company and Naads came to Parliament last year for a supplementary budget and after they were granted the Shs108b, they decided to close the factory yet part of that money was meant to pay the pending wages of these victims

A  total 4,100 sugarcane outgrowers  in northern region have issued a  two-week ultimatum to Horyal Investment Ltd to pay them their three-year arrears that accrued since 2017.

On Monday, the farmers under Atiak Sugar Outgrowers’ Cooperative Scheme told journalists in Gulu City that they had also petitioned Parliament over the matter.

It is established that the claimants, who are also Lord’s Resistance Army war victims, renewed their pay demands recently when they discovered that the company closed Atiak sugar factory in Amuru District a few months after it received a Shs108b bailout from the government.

Ms Rosemary Achan, one of their leaders, said each of them demands the company Shs25m for the three years.

“This time we will do all it takes to get that money because we understand that the government gave them money to pay us, but unfortunately, they have shut down the factory,” she said.

“Initially, they told us that we would be paid in the second year of the work after the canes matured but the time passed and since then, they have been dodging us,”  she added.

This newspaper established that the victims were each assigned five acres of sugarcane to manage and would be paid Shs25m per year.

Mr Patrick Poly Okin Ojara, the Chwa MP, said they are preparing another petition for the Inspectorate of Government to investigate the firm and ensure that the funds are properly accounted for.

“The company and Naads came to Parliament last year for a supplementary budget and after they were granted the Shs108b, they decided to close the factory yet part of that money was meant to pay the pending wages of these victims,” Mr Okin said.

Mr Gilbert Olanya, the Kilak MP, said they cannot allow the government to continue spending billions of shillings on a factory that is keeping thousands of people jobless.  The government owns 44 percent of shares in the factory.

However, Mahmood Abdi Ahmed, the company’s director for plantation and agriculture, dismissed the claims of non-payment.

“If they claim they were not paid, the best people to comment on the matter are the chairpersons of the two cooperatives under which the claimants fall,”  Mr Mahmood said.

“We got funding from the government to plant the canes, and there is no employee who worked for us and was never paid, including the outgrowers whose money was channelled through the cooperatives’ leadership,” he added.

But Ms Joyce Laker, the chairperson of Atiak Outgrowers Cooperative Society, said the company only paid them for the seed canes and that money was given to the members directly not through the cooperatives between 2019 and 2020.

“The money we received was for the seed canes and most of it was deducted for the membership fees and annual subscription of the more than 2,000 members in our association,” Ms Laker said.

“[A total of] 182 members were paid. The rest of the unpaid members’ concerns can only be answered by the company,” she added.

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