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Bar owners oppose proposed liquor law for 11 Mt Kenya counties

CENTRAL
By Job Weru | March 16th 2016

NYERI: The proposed master bill to regulate the alcoholic industry in 11 Central Kenya counties is now facing fresh hurdles.

Bar owners across the region are accusing formulators of the County Alcoholic Control Act of 2016 of making unilateral decisions without consulting stakeholders.

They are now threatening to move to court to stop the enactment of the bill saying it had not been subjected to public participation process, which is mandatory.

The opposition to the enactment of the bill could slow down the momentum created by the county assemblies across the region, which has been working overboard to have the legislation passed.

The legislation is a product of a caucus of Members of the County Assembly from the region, who under the stewardship of the Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) has been keen to regulate the sector.

And the opposition against the bill comes a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta promised in Murang'a that the momentum gained in the war against alcoholism in the region.

"We cannot afford to lose focus on this war. We are going to continue with this journey until we ensure that our youth are protected from these bad products and the regulation about time is adhered to," said Uhuru while addressing a roadside meeting at Kirwara village in Murang'a.

But the bar owners are hearing none of it saying without public participation the legislation is bound to fail.

Yesterday, liquor dealers in Embu County sent a warning to the local county assembly about debating the master Bill drafted by leaders from Central Kenya.

They said the bill meant to be adopted by 11 county assemblies in the region lacked public participation as required by the constitution and ignores stakeholder's involvement.

Led by Embu Liquor Dealers Association chairman Ireri Ndong'ong'i, they faulted the proposed law for seeking to do away with Embu County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2014, a move they termed as being anti-devolution.

They raised concern that the stipulated time in the master Bill for opening bars, 5pm to 11pm for weekdays and 2pm to 11pm for weekends, contradicts with Embu County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2014 which sets time from 2pm to 11pm on weekdays and 11am to 11pm for weekends.

They said they pay heavy levies in terms of statutory requirements and permits and would not be able to make profit with reduced operating hours.

Speaking after the Association's meeting in Embu town, they complained that the proposed law has recommended multiple licences, which they termed exorbitant.

The bar owners further took issue with the work plan given for up to April 14 for the law to have been debated and enacted into law as being too short.

"The proposed master Bill is not reflective of the Embu situation and we have vowed to oppose it until the contentious sections are revised. There is no way NGOs and church women group can be involved in regulating alcohol business at our exclusion whereas we understand the merits and demerits of the business. We will not get justice while excluded," said Ndong'ong'i.

He said devolution anticipated a situation where the local county assembly would make independent laws specific to the situation of the county, without undue influence from outside.

They also decried harassment by police who raid their premises citing flouting of the Mututho laws whereas the county is under Embu County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2014.

"Police are also arresting our members while demanding licenses whereas since 2013 no bar has a license from the county government since we have no issuing authority. We urge the county commissioner and commander of police to protect us," he said.

Ndong'ong'i said they had met Governor Martin Wambora and consented to withdraw a case in court so that the county assembly can debate amendments to the Embu County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2014 that would enable setting up of a board to issue licenses.

In Nyeri, Bar Owners Association has also demanded to be involved in formulation of laws to govern the sale of alcohol.

The association said without the input of all stakeholders, the process would be futile.

The group asked the leaders to allow stakeholders to give their input on any proposed legal framework as per the Constitution.

"The Constitution is clear that the public and other interested groups be involved and their views considered through public participation," association secretary Kiama Gachanja said. "Our inclusion and input is crucial in streamlining the sector."

Mr Gachanja said the association supported the second stage of the crackdown on illicit brew, but cautioned leaders against inciting the public to target legitimate businesses.

"Use of political rallies to whip up public emotions will only make the matter worse, they should let the law enforcement agencies lead the campaign to wipe out the menace," Gachanja said.

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