By Ibrahim Kasita
LIRA Spinning Mill, the largest in East Africa, has closed due to lack of sufficient cotton to run the factory, operators said. The milling factory, which was handed over to Jinda International Textiles Corporation Ltd (JITCO), was expected to benefit cotton growers by bringing in new technology, create 500 jobs and increase textile exports thus adding value to cotton.
JITCO is a joint venture between Chinese companies, Guostar Enterprises Uganda Ltd and Tianjin Haihe International Service and Engineering Corporation.
In a deal signed in 2005, JITCO was supposed to invest about $20m in rehabilitation and upgrading of the factory to produce yarn and textiles for export rather than exporting lint.
However, a recent visit to the factory revealed that there were little efforts made to revive the factory as the machines were dormant.
Many workers who were employed at the projectâ€™s inception were sacked because it was not economically-viable to keep them around since there was no work going on, operators said.
Tough-looking military guards manned the premises and about 15 women sorted out the brown-turned cotton, while five technicians chatted away. They said unreliable power cuts had disrupted their work.
Fleets of World Food Programme and Mukwano Industries were parked at the parking yard as casual labourers loaded and off-loaded items. The items are packaged and stored in the spinning millâ€™s huge storage facilities.
Also, a cotton store in the premises is operated by Dutch firm, Bo-Weevil, which is dealing with organic cotton in the region.
In the main spinning mill area, old Russian-made machines were removed and dumped outside the parking lot.
The few workers there said they were to be replaced with hi-tech machines from China.
JITCOâ€™s project coordinator, Herbert Katalaga, said: â€œLack of enough cotton to run the factory stopped them from operating.â€
â€œThe mill is operational, but we have got problems of raw materials (cotton) in the north. We stopped operating last season (2006) because production of cotton was low,â€ he said in an interview at his Kampala offices.
â€œIt is not viable to operate without enough raw materials. We are going to resume spinning this year since we expect high cotton productivity in the region. Some of the machines we found there were rotten. This also disorganised our activities.â€
Katalagga explained that they had to send away most of the employees because â€œthere were no serious activities taking place.â€
He argued that the World Food Programme and Mukwano contacted them for storage facilities in the mill and â€œbecause of our human nature and returning back to the community, we had to provide them with the space,â€ adding that â€œbut when we begin serious operations, they will have to leave.â€
â€œWe have already invested about $10m for the first phase of refurbishment of the factory with modern equipment and technology. We are looking for $10m more to complete the upgrading programme,â€ Katalaga said.
â€œWe cannot just abandon this project. Spinning will begin this year. What we are doing now is removing the old and outdated machines and replacing them with new ones. We have nothing to hide because we are serious investors.â€
He said that to enhance spinning of thread and cotton ginning, 10,000 fresh spindles and a ginnery had been set up. The mill will manufacture and export yarn to China.
Katalaga said the mill was already marketing yarn on the international markets especially China.
The second phase, he said, would focus on installation of dyeing and weaving equipment.
Lira Spinning Mill was closed at end of the 1970s due to the civil war and was under the privatisation programme.