Hiber Sugar requested federal government intervention to resolve its dispute with the regional government of Amhara, which it accused of transferring its 6,183 hectare of land to unidentified investors and people relocated from other areas.
Established a decade ago, Hiber has been at loggerheads with the region’s Rural Land Administration and Use Bureau for the last five years, after the Bureau revoked its license for its failure to clear the land and start operations on time.
Gizat Abiyu, Head of the regional Rural Land Administration and Use Bureau, told The Reporter that his bureau extended Hiber Sugar’s investment license repeatedly before it revoked the license just a year ago. “They did not cultivate the land for nine years. We waited for them for years and revoked the license just last year although the contract stated that the license be revoked three years ago,” remarked the head.
The sugar factory, which escaped liquidation in 2017 after a series of disagreements over its fate among shareholders, claimed to have been struggling to regain its investment license for four years.
Contrary to the Bureau Head’s statement, Hiber Sugar documents claim that the sugar factory regained the license last year, although it is still unable to reclaim its plot of land, which it claims has partly fell under the control of land grabbers and is being transferred to other investors.
“People relocated from other areas took parts of the land. Even though the region was aware of this situation, it failed to take action and respond to our requests to reclaim the land,” said Yirga Gebere(Azmach), deputy chairman of the board.
The Bureau Head confirmed that there are farmers tilling the land for years now and pointed out that the Bureau has been giving parts of the land to investors.
The management and board of the sugar plant, representing 5,500 shareholders, announced that they have attempted to persuade officials of the region in a bid to reclaim its plot of land situated in Jawi, Awi Zone, and South Achefer, West Gojjam Zone.
“Even if we have resolved our internal problems, we haven’t been able to move forward due to the bureaucracy and unresponsiveness of the officials of Amhara region, which instead responded to our complaints by revoking our license,” said Alemayehu Tsegaselassie, Board Member of the Share Company.
According to the board, the share company lost its license after completing the project design and clearing 1,000 hectares of land for cultivation, while cultivating 88 hectares of land between 2011 and 2014.
The Bureau Head responded to these claims by stating “they did not cultivate even a quarter of a hectare.”
Eight years ago, the company hired the then Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC) for the construction of its plant at a cost of USD 165 million. However, METEC was not able to deliver the project and later returned the 25 million Birr advance payment it had received for the project.
“The share company took the case to the federal government and tried to inform both the Prime Minister and his deputy. Yet with the COVID-19 restrictions, it cannot forward any documents or letter,” said Yirga.
“We have 95 million Birr in cash now. But we are not able to invest this and achieve what we have promised our shareholders,” he added.