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Fury as county governments sidelined in new illicit liquor war

By Nderitu Gichure and Kamau Maichuhie | Published Wed, March 14th 2018 at 00:00, Updated March 13th 2018 at 23:45 GMT +3
Police officers led by Central Region Coordinator Wilson NJega inspect an illicit brews at Chaka Market in Nyeri County, during a crackdown on illicit brews and second generation liquor. [Photo by Kibata Kihu/Standard]

The much touted 100-day crackdown on illicit liquor in central Kenya has run into headwinds following the sidelining of county governments.

Although county governments are the licensing agents of joints selling alcohol, the devolved units have been left out in the operation, which is being led by national government officials at the county level.

The national government has come under fire from bar owners in Central counties for sidelining the devolved units in the latest crackdown on liquor.

The crackdown encountered hurdles as the devolved units complained they had been left out despite being the licensing agencies.

Licensing authorities

In Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri, bar owners cried foul over the exclusion of the county governments.

They wondered why county governments, the licensing authorities, had been left out of the exercise.

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Central Regional Co-ordinator Wilson Njega defended the ongoing crackdown, but faulted county governments for enacting new laws that exclude police and provincial administrators in the fight against illicit brews.

Speaking at Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology last week, Mr Njega said there was no way law enforcement and implementation can be taken away from the national government and the police.

He said it was the mandate of the national government and National Police Service to implement all the existing laws, be they national or county.

The administrator said there was a national law in place; namely Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, which is operational in all counties and which supersede all county laws.

Nyeri Bar Owners Association has accused the national government of trying to re-introduce of Mututho laws.

Kiama Gachanja, the association's Representative in County Liquor Licensing Board, said prior to the fresh crackdown, the Government had promised to meet all stakeholders.

“It was set to factor input from stakeholders including manufactures, retailer’s, county governments and all government agencies tasked with wiping out the menace in the region,” Gachanja explained.

He added: “We feel concerned since with the enactment of the new Constitution 2010, devolved units took over the licensing of alcoholic outlets."

Each of the 11 counties in the region have enacted County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, after failing to have a uniform law, known as ‘Master Bill”.

“We are opposed to the reintroduction of this Mututho law through the back door. It is now obsolete, licensing of alcoholic outlets is a devolved function under the county government act 2012,” Paul Kafungo, the association's secretary added.

Kafungo claimed last year the county government of Nyeri collected over Sh137 million in revenue out of which Sh35 million came from licensing of over 1,900 bars.

“Manufacturers who fail to declare their products should be charged since they are ones responsible for proliferation of illicit brews,” he said.

Supremacy battle

In Kiambu, the national and county governments are currently locked in a supremacy battle over the crackdown on illicit brews.

The row pitting the two has been amplified by Kiambu Alcoholic and Drinks Control Bill which was assented to law by Governor Ferdinand Waititu on Wednesday.

The new law prohibits police and provincial administration from taking part in the fight against illicit brews in the county.

County askaris are charged with enforcing the new law, which Waititu hopes to use to eradicate illicit brews in the county.

Murang'a bar owners have also complained that police have failed to work with other players during the crackdown.

Their chairman James Waweru said police efforts would not yield fruit without involvement of county governments.

Mr Waweru said in the ongoing crackdown, police have failed to arrest known manufacturers of brews,  but instead target the retailers.

"We have seen action on small operators while those with factories are spared," said Waweru.

Governor Mwangi wa Iria called for amendment to the law to allow police participation in crackdown liquor. "We must win the war through close collaboration with all arms of the government.

In the neigbouring Kirinyaga County, bar owners have also protested over the crackdown.


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