Cooperatives & Communities

Sebei coop new leaders demand compensation, promise openness

KAPCHORWA-In a bid to revamp the union, Emmy Geoffrey Sayekwo, the newly elected chairperson of Sebei Elgon Cooperative Union [SECU] has asked government to compensate them for the loss of union properties.

Members however demanded this must be on a bedrock of accountability by its newly elected officials.

Sayekwo, also Chief Magistrate of Moroto, said the union lost properties worth millions of shillings in the liberation wars between 1979 and 1985, and these must be paid for.

He spoke shortly after being re-elected at their Annual General Meeting [AGM] for a new term.

Sayekwo, elected for the third time, won the tightly contested poll even though members accused him of incompetence and misappropriation of union funds and properties that include a 1,500-acre plot that they own in Bukwo district.

He sailed through on a majority vote in a chaotic poll that lasted till late.

The poll attracted five candidates and was presided over by Joseph Paul Ocatum, the Senior Cooperative Officer from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives.

He defeated Moses Kubarika, a senior police officer and husband to Kapchorwa District Chairperson, Everlyne Chebet Kubarika who lost to the same candidate in 2020 by a paltry 11 votes.

There was also Stephen Hero Sabila, a businessman and one of Managing Directors of Kampala Cement, George Kiprotich, and Issa Satya, a retired teacher.

Kubarika, Satya and Kitprotich stepped down in favour of the incumbent, despite the open mistrust and accusations by some members.

Three delegates from each of the 72 primary growers cooperative societies voted.

The election followed over two months of campaigns that focused mainly on perceived mismanagement and corruption that have shaken the cooperative to the core.

SECU is one of the country’s oldest unions, having been founded in 1963 — a year after independence. It broke off from the larger and much more successful Bugisu Cooperative Union [BCU].

The Sebei union has in recent times been rocked by financial scandals and operations have faltered as a result, officials said.

The union now says they badly need cash to reinvigorate their operations and once government repays them for lost properties, they will be able to run well.

Sebei deals mostly in coffee, barley and maize. Most of its owners are nearby farmers with shares in much smaller primary cooperative societies spread around the sub-region.

Sayekwo said this compensation would allow them restore lost glory, by plugging a cash hole they now face.

“We are looking at compensation and grants to revive the union. Government must compensate us because loss of properties watered down the progress of the union,” he said.

He cited other cooperatives like BCU and Banyakole Kweterana, which have received large hand-outs in the same vein.

“We were greatly affected; our machines were vandalised. We stopped operations and this affected us so much. Other cooperatives never had interruptions but they were given money,” he said, adding that if they are compensated, they would create employment in the Sebei-sub region.

Once paid, their main task would be to revive smaller cooperative unions in the area. He said they would be much more open than they have been.

“The audit reports are there; it’s only in my time that you have seen this cooperative progressing from negative to positive,” he said in self-defence.

“That is why members have given me confidence, while most of my opposers stepped down for me. That is a serious vote of confidence.”

Major Juma Seiko, former chairperson of the union, said SECU should be considered for compensation by the government.

“During the time of insurgency, many of the cooperative’s machines were vandalised. We have seen government compensate other cooperatives; why not SECU? We need a capital base,” he said, adding there had been little progress since he relinquished the seat a few years ago.

“There has not been progress. I left machines, tractors and combine harvesters. Many of these are redundant; the new management did not repair them,” Seiko charged.

Farmers need to be helped in sourcing quality inputs, he added.

Zakayo Tedderesi Malinga, the Secretary Manager of the Cooperative said the union needs money to buy produce from farmers and repair their dilapidated facilities.

Ambrose Mugweri, Commissioner of Cooperatives promised government support.

“The Ministry [MTIC] will support the union, they will write and see how they will be helped,” he said, asking the new leadership to focus on revamping primary societies.

Justin Yeko, the District Commercial Officer, said they want to see the new SECU leadership guide the farmers on how to make more money through commercial agriculture.

Martin Mangusho, an opinion leader and a farmer in Sebei sub-region, said members of the cooperative have overtime lost confidence and trust in the leaders due to lack of accountability.

“The once vibrant cooperative is now a shadow of itself because of mismanagement and failure to engage farmers in marketing and value addition. The task ahead for the new leadership will be to regain trust of farmers,” said Mangusho.

He said some of the union’s properties including land have been grabbed by some union officials although he gave no names.

Farmers expect the new leadership to add value to their produce and locate markets, adding that fruit farmers are being cheated by middlemen.

He urged the new leadership to fight corruption in the union.

“Corruption has been rampant in the union and I think it’s one of the (main) tasks ahead. We need formidable leaders who are transparent, accountable, and honesty,” he said, urging leaders to find capital to revive the union’s activities.

Tom Chesol, the former RDC Bukwo and Kapchorwa districts said government should interest itself more in the running of cooperatives.

“Government should interest themselves in management of cooperatives, there is no serious law that allows government entities to supervise them,” he said, adding that cooperative’s leaders should be held accountable by the cooperative law.

“The cooperative law should be amended so that these people can be held accountable by the local government who should supervise cooperatives directly. Here, there is nothing tangible on the ground,” he said.

He said leaders of cooperative societies are supposed to help farmers with storage facilities and find market for the produce.

George Kiprotich, CEO of Kapchorwa Civil Society Organization Alliance [KACOSA], wondered why the candidates spent a lot of money in their campaigns.

“The candiudates used a lot of money and yet this is voluntary. Why should one use money by ferrying delegates?” he wondered.

He claimed that some leaders also connive with politicians who want to advance their own, private interests in the union.

“These are guys are conniving with politicians who want to advance their interests. There is land at Kapyoyon Farm in Bukwo district which is 1,500 acres. They want to do business or take big chunks of that land for themselves and not for the community. Their agenda is personal,” he charged.

He said there is a need to revive primary societies and ensure there is accountability through establishing policies.

“The primary societies are the ones which feed unions and we want to strengthen them. We need transparency and accountability at the primary level. We want to empower them financially,” he said, adding fighting corruption in SECU must begin with primary societies.

“The corruption started from primary societies because they are no systems in place for checks and balances and they take advantage of it. They are not credible people. The current administration have an anti-corruption manual and without a policy you can’t stop certain things,” he said.

Sayekwo, the newly-returned leader, and former board member of Uganda Cooperative Alliance [UCA], Chairperson National Alliance of Agriculture Cooperatives [NAAC] and Council member of Easter African Farmers Federation [EAFF] said he inherited a moribund body.

He denied corruption charges though, saying this was before he took over.

“Corruption has not been an issue in my tenure, these are just allegations, malicious propaganda that has been done through court petitions. My leadership has been the most accountable leadership for SECU.

“We inherited an almost dead union. We found liabilities; they couldn’t even convene an AGM without borrowing,” he said.

Kalifani Chemutai, a delegate, said he wants to see the union concentrating on value addition and extension services.

“I would love to see a cooperative involved in our communities concentrating on value addition of our produce and leading by example and providing extension services,” he said.

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