Mt Kenya counties race to put laws in place to rid of killer brews

John Githua, a 70-year-old survivor who went blind after consuming illicit brew in Kangai village, Kirinyaga County. [Jane Mugambi, sTANDARD]

As cheap alcohol leaves a trail of death and tears in Mt Kenya, five counties are now racing against time to enact laws to safeguard their communities from the repercussions associated with the killer brews.

This mission, clearly spelt out by Deputy President, Rigathi Gachagua in his public engagements, has been given some urgency due to the most recent disaster in Kirinyaga this week which has left 13 dead and scores blind and maimed.

And even as owner of the ill-fated pub in Kangai, John Muriithi Karaya alias ‘California’ was arrested and arraigned at the Baricho Law Courts on Wednesday, Central Region Commissioner Fredrick Shishia lamented that the owner had been arrested 15 times while laying blame to courts which he said has been releasing him.

“The suspect has been arrested in the past in connection with the sale of illicit brews but courts have been releasing him, a move that has made police work difficult,” the regional commissioner said.

The deaths come at a time when the county assemblies in the region are engaged in enacting legislation that will seal loopholes and tighten the noose on the fight.

In the efforts led by the Deputy President, the five counties Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Nyandarua Counties were tasked to formulate one common law in a joint venture to end illicit brews and drug abuse while reducing the number of bars in rural areas.

Last month, Nyandarua County approved the Nyandarua County Alcoholic Drinks Act, 2023 to regulate the consumption and sale of alcohol in the county.

The Act recommends among other things; the introduction of a joint vetting committee between the county and the national government officers (the County Commissioner and the officers of the county government) in licensing of the bars and restaurants in the county.

According to the act, all vehicles transporting the alcohol beverages must be branded while the transportation will have to be conducted between 8am to 6pm as opposed to during the night to avert cases of mischief.

According to the bill, manufacturers who will be held culpable for adulteration of alcoholic drinks will be fined not more than Sh10 million or serve 10 years in jail or both.

The distributors of adulterated alcoholic drinks and sellers will be fined Sh2 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both and a fine of Sh500,000 or an imprisonment of two years respectively.

“Every licensee who is convicted of an offence under this Act shall produce his license to the court convicting him, and the court shall endorse every such conviction on the licence and the relevant administrative officer of the court shall inform the relevant county committee,” the bill reads in part.

Under the Act that will be replicated in all the other counties, a licensee shall not promote any alcoholic drinks in such a manner as to encourage more consumption where anyone who contravenes with the proposal will be liable for a fine nor exceeding Sh500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.

The retailers of alcoholic drinks will also be required to display signposts, in the prescribed manner and contents, informing the public that the sale or the availing of alcoholic drinks under the age of 18 is prohibited by law. Those who contravene the directive will be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh50,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both.”

Drunk and disorderly

Drunkards have not been spared either, for those who will be convicted for being drunk and disorderly more than three occasions, the Bill gives the convicting magistrate to order him or her to undergo, at his own cost, a rehabilitation programme in a public health institution.

The magistrate will also be required to report the person to the Sub-County committee who will then investigate to know the bar where the convict drank for monitoring.

“Until a period of 12 months has passed without any further such conviction to the accused, any licensee who sells or supplies alcoholic drinks to or for delivery to that person commits an offence, and it shall be an offence for that person to be in possession of any alcoholic drink,” the Act reads.

In Murang’a County, the bill is undergoing harmonisation as there existed another set of laws passed in 2013 by the first assembly.

“We are currently harmonising the two sets of laws to understand what to include in the law since the current one lacks some details which will tighten the war against illicit brews and hard drugs,” Kibe Wa Sarry, Murang’a County Majority Leader said.

In Kirinyaga and Nyeri Counties, the bill is undergoing public participation with the MCAs pledging to approve the bill once it resumes next week.

“The bill addresses all the gaps that have always made the brewers and drug traffickers get away with jail terms and penalties and once they are resumed to the assembly, we shall rally behind the DP in his commitment in the campaign,” said Karanja Maina, an MCA in Nyeri.

Murang’a Woman Representative Betty Maina called on the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to crack the whip on the manufacturers of the killer brews.

“We can’t continue collecting revenue while at the same time burying our children. Soon we shall start a mass campaign to smoke out the killer brews,” she said.

The war on illicit brew has been complimented by Gachagua’s spouse Dorcas Gachagua who has been using the Office of Spouse of Deputy President (OSDP) to drive empowerment programme for the boy child.

Her campaign entails a rigorous screening of the addicts and taking the most deserving to rehabilitation centres.