Communication 101: Keep it simple, pleaseMonday July 19 2021
In the Daily Nation of June 17, 2021, the Governor of Kakamega County put out a full page communiqué titled “The Revival of Mumias Sugar Company Limited”. It was a lot of reading. A lot.
The only thing that kept me persistently going to the end of the two-column publication was abject curiosity at where the mixed messaging that was jumping off the pages was going to land. Firstly we were taken through a fairly convoluted history of the shareholding of Mumias, followed by a historical reminder of the governing legislation in an act that was an undefined acronym — AFFA Act — finally ending with a victorious shout-out to the receiver manger (sic) for fighting the good fight, almost finishing the race and, hopefully, keeping the faith!
The final sentence was a shot across the MV Kakamega bow: “The County Government of Kakamega will full (sic) support all the efforts that will bring the factory back to operations immediately and shall ignore those that think that this is an opportunity to benefit themselves at the expense of the poor farmers and citizens of Kakamega.”
Let’s start at the beginning. The broad missive struggles with what was Mumias’ status as an incorporated entity by stating “In the year 2001, the company changed status from a public to a private company, through public listing…” Look, you can’t change from a public to a private company through a public listing. That by its very nature is oxymoronic.
The writer’s noble intentions to inform emerge later in the sentence which continues “….bringing down the government shareholding to 20% and enabling the farmers and other entities to take a stake in the shareholding through Mumias Outgrowers Company and individually.”
Aha! So the writer was essentially trying to tell us that what used to be a State corporation due to the fact that it was majority-owned by the government at 71 percent, was reduced to being a ‘non-public’ asset when that shareholding was reduced to 20 percent. And for the writer, the opposite of public is private of course. But then it went through a public listing, where the writer meant that the shares of the company previously owned by the government were put up for sale on the Nairobi Securities Exchange and the company was converted into a public company as its articles now permitted invitations to the public to subscribe for its shares and did not restrict the right of shareholders to transfer those shares. Following conversion into a public company, it then became a publicly listed company when it listed on the NSE.
The communiqué then gets really interesting when the governor starts to attribute the “public-into-private-into-public” shenanigans as the bane of the company’s woes. It says and I quote: “Unfortunately, and for reasons that are now water under the bridge both Mumias Outgrowers Company and the farmers relinquished their shareholding through the stock exchange resulting into an ineffective shareholding and governance structure that had 71% of the shares held by individuals through the NSE, 20% by the national government and 9% by other private institutions. As a result of this poor governance structure the company rapidly slided (sic) into loss making and became unable to meet its obligations to the farmers and creditors.”
If I was asked to “woman-splain” what our gallant writer was venturing to posit, I would say that the original buyers of the shares at the public listing, being the farmers and the outgrowers company, control+alt+deleted their way out of the company and the resultant shareholders were “ineffective”, which “ineffectiveness” led to a poor governance structure.
But wait, actually if you read that sentence the terms shareholding and governance structure are almost being used interchangeably because once the shareholding is defined, then that is what is explained as being the poor governance structure that led the company into loss making.
Not poor management by its executives. Not questionable oversight by the board of the company that is supposed to be the apex institution guiding the organisation. Just plain old shareholders who held 71 percent of the company having bought the shares from the first buyers — key stakeholders themselves — who bailed out for reasons that flowed in a river over which the bridge to prosperity was seemingly missing.
I feel the county’s pain in the tragic trajectory that this public-private-public-now-under-receivership asset has taken. The full page advert is a shadow boxing stab in the dark at trying to elucidate the source of Mumias’ woes while telling everyone to stand down and let the receiver manager do their job. Invariably it leaves the reader feeling like the recipient of this message: “Sorry I just saw your text from last night, are you guys still at the restaurant?”
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