Tea reforms go a notch higher after MPs’ nod
Lewis Njoka @LewisNjoka
Tea farmers might have to wait until next year to have a new law governing the sector despite the National Assembly passing the much-awaited Tea Bill.
Members of both Houses of Parliament commence their recess today, according to the parliamentary calendar, and will reconvene in February.
The bill proposes to, among other things, empower Agriculture Cabinet Secretary to make regulations for the tea sub-sector, re-introduce the Tea Board of Kenya and the Tea Research Foundation.
It also proposes to have one man, one vote, system for electing factory directors, restrict direct sale of tea and generally reduce the influence of Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) in the management of smallholder tea affairs in the country.
National Assembly on Tuesday night, about 11 O’clock, night approved the much-contested bill, with amendments, during the third reading.
The bill will later be forwarded to Senate Agriculture Committee for approval after which it will be assented into law by the President.
If the two committees disagree on the changes made, then a mediation committee will be formed to reach consensus on the contentious issues.
Kenya Tea Sector Lobby Chairman and a key supporter of the bill, Irungu Nyakera, is however hopeful that the bill could be passed into law before Christmas through special sittings of parliament.
“Parliament, between now and February could still be recalled to conduct urgent business.
Whenever it’s being recalled, this can also be reintroduced for them to pass. So we are hoping that at best case, we can have it as a Christmas gift for the farmer,” he said.
“I am happy because it’s something we have been fighting for over six years.
It’s something that is close to the heart of the over 660,000 farmers who have felt that their fortunes are dwindling and nobody seems to care about them,” he added
Earlier, tabling of the bill for the third reading had been postponed after a member of parliament noticed that some key sections had been omitted.
The sections on one man, one vote had been omitted while the clause restricting on the direct sale of tea had been omitted.
The proposed law was later allowed to proceed to the third reading after the offending clauses were rectified.
It received much contestation with Agriculture CS, Peter Munya, championing it on one hand and KTDA opposing it on the other.
Munya has on several occasions called for tea stakeholders to support the proposed law, saying it will address the challenge of low tea prices, delayed payments, low bonus payments and fluctuating net earnings among farmers.
It will also fix problems of conflict of interest in tea management, lack of transparency and other governance challenges, according to Munya.
The tea agency, on the other hand, has previously resisted the proposed changes, saying selling all tea via the auction as opposed to direct sales could result in tea flooding the Mombasa auction thereby lowering the prices, among other concerns.
Speaking earlier this year, KTDA chairman Peter Kanyago asked the government to revert the agency to authority by buying it if they want to control it.
The chairman who is opposed to the proposed new tea regulations said KTDA is a private company that cannot be controlled or owned by anyone without a cost.