Step up the war against illicit drinks

Around mid-2015, the State launched a concerted fight against illegal alcoholic drinks which saw dens raided and suspects arrested.

When he launched the campaign to rid the county of illicit liquor on July 1, 2015, President Kenyatta described the drinks as 'the business of death'. The campaign started in central Kenya and would later be rolled out to other regions.

Taking charge of the drive were local MPs, county commissioners and their assistants, as well as local interest groups. It saw more than 160 distiller licenses revoked. And out of these, only 27 major brewers got back to their feet.

However, despite the onslaught on illegal drinks, abuse of alcohol still remains a challenge. There have been cases of unscrupulous traders flouting national and county government regulations. Some stock brands that have not been approved.

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There were valuable lessons from the 2015 crackdown. And as the Government seeks ways of scaling up the anti-liquor war this year, effort must be made to ensure the real culprits are brought to book.

In the past, genuine distillers became victims of circumstances and many of them were almost driven out of business. The 2015 exercise unfairly targeted innocent firms whose only crime, according to law enforcement agencies, was that their brands had been counterfeited. But the real criminals behind the counterfeiting rings escaped with lenient fines.

In some cases, no action was taken against them at all. Those behind importation of illegal distilling materials should be made to face the law. There must be efforts to ensure retailers and consumers are not left at the mercy of rogue brewers.

There is an intricate web of trade in illicit alcoholic drinks. Those behind it should be made to pay for their sins. Punishing honest distillers, who pay millions of shillings in annual taxes, should not be the case.

Police, the anti-counterfeit agency, county governments and Kenya Bureau of Standards should ensure total compliance by traders of alcoholic beverages. No one should lose their license and investment just because someone else has counterfeited their products. The Government should ensure that any future crackdowns are executed within the confines of the rule of law and natural justice.

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