Arusha — BEFORE the Arusha Declaration of 1967, a grain milling company known as 'Unga-Limited' used to make roaring business not only in Arusha or other parts of Tanzania, but also in Kenya as well as Uganda.
Those were the days of the original 'East African Community (EAC),' comprising of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and the 'Unga-Limited' establishment conducted milling operations that cut across the three countries producing packed maize and wheat flour varieties from factories dotting the entire region.
In fact, the company's towering presence in Arusha gave rise to the 'Unga-Limited' ward, currently the densely population section of the city whose early inhabitants, according to undocumented history, were all workers (employees and casual labourers) of the 'Unga-Limited' company.
Also the skyscraping circular silos used to be the highest structures in Arusha in the 60s, 70s, 80s and to as far as early 90s before real estate developers made enough money to be able to erect taller buildings and even now only two or three hotels in town have managed to beat the four grain storage towers' heights.
Following the Arusha Declaration, the state took over the running of 'Unga-Limited,' changing the company's name into 'National Milling Corporation' abbreviated as 'NMC.' The firm's performance, on the other hand, started going down from there.
Fast-Forward to 2013 and uncertainty starts clouding the ownership of the NMC assets in Arusha, including the towering silos as well as the milling machines installed in the factory below.
This follows the decision by the government to commission a local private firm known as 'Monaban Trading and Farming Company,' to run the facility and this was reportedly inked some six years ago. Now the locally-owned company says it is frustrated by some government officials in its bid to take over full operations of the facility, as is the case with other NMC assets in other parts of the country which have been privatised.
Mr Phillemon Mollel, the Monaban Director, claimed here that although his company entered into a contract to manage the NMC assets since 2007 on care-taker basis, the government has failed to honour its request to sell the former state milling house to him or lease the facility for a much longer period.
The NMC mills, silos and other assets in Arusha are still under the Consolidated Holding Corporation (CHC) Limited, a government body charged to oversee privatisation or liquidation of ailing state parastatals. In his recent Arusha tour, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda was told by the company management that there were plans to fully rehabilitate the milling machines in efforts to modernise the plant, but these have failed to take off because the government has not made its position clear on the matter.
"It is very unfortunate that CHC has failed to be open to me," he said, citing a recent case in which officials from the National Cereals Board from Dar es Salaam came and switched off the milling machines at the plant without notifying him. It caused Monaban Trading to incur a loss amounting to millions of shillings because some 120 tons of wheat and 60 tons of grain were lined up for milling.
Consequently, the grains were allegedly damaged. CHC is also alleged to refuse Monaban access to the silos within the NMC premises. Instead, storage towers have been leased to the Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) and Serengeti Breweries (SBL). According to Mr Mollel, in 2007 the government contracted his company to rehabilitate, manage and produce maize and wheat flour at the facility, they spent 6.2 bil/- to rehabilitate the milling machines, including rollers and roller cases installed more than 50 years ago and which operated on obsolete technology.
Instalment of new equipment worth 2.7bn/-, a loan from CRDB Bank, was undertaken by experts from Buhler company from Switzerland. The loan is part of the 6.2bn/- the company had invested in the facility. "Our aim is to take over the NMC assets," insisted Mollel, claiming there were deliberate efforts by some officials to prevent his firm from carrying out the plans, despite the fact that they have undertaken initial efforts to rehabilitate the run down facility.
Currently, the Arusha firm is milling 45 tons of maize a day, although projected plans were to mill 120 tons with focus to increase that to 240 tons of grain, as well as similar amount for wheat once major rehabilitations have been accomplished. During his visit, the PM said the government intends to increase grain storage capacity from the current status of storing 250,000 tons to 450,000 tons of cereals, to meet the country's food demand.
The Arusha silos, located in Unga-Limited area have the capacity of storing nearly 40,000 tons of cereals at once. The silos have been placed under the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA). Across the border, meanwhile, the original Unga-Limited Company (Kenya) from which NMC was carved, continues to run smoothly.