One thing puzzling Kenyans since President Uhuru Kenyatta’s call on the crackdown of illicit alcohol is the move by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) to almost immediately suspend 385 alcoholic brands.
Why did they certify them in the first place?
And as the National Authority for Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) accuses Kebs of double standards, Central Kenya MPs also blame the agency and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) for the mess.
“Kebs, Nacada and KRA have failed Kenyans over the years by allowing greedy illicit alcohol manufacturers continue with their illegal operations,” says Central Kenya and Nairobi Parliamentary Caucus chairman Dennis Waweru.
The Dagoretti South MP says after the ongoing crackdown on illicit brew, focus should turn on the enforcement agencies.
The said operators are daring and even insulting to a sober mind, if the names of some brand names are anything to go by. In Dandora, there is one called Rest in Peace. And among the suspended ones is Mawingu (Cloud), the Ferrari Movement and Kuhama (Exodus); the names chillingly depicting death.
And the numbers of the dead from alcohol causes in the past few years is mind numbing.
Figures from Nacada show that in 2010, the year the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act or the Mututho Law was passed, 6,557 people died. In 2011, 5,395 drank to the grave with the number rising in 2012 to 7146.
Nacada coined a name for these liquids of death; the second generation, to distinguish them from the hitherto monopoly, East African Breweries Limited (EABL), products.
Yesterday, Nacada chairman John Mututho threw the blame on Kebs. “It seems kuna magendo mingi sana huko Kebs (big corruption),” he said.
But Kebs Director of Quality Assurance and Inspection, John Abong’s said suspending the 385 brands does not mean they have ‘condemned’ them.
“Why we suspended them is because the brands or products were associated with cases of harmful side effects even causing death. The licences of the companies who manufacture the same products have also been suspended by the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
According to Abong’s the spirits are obtained from diluting ethanol, then adding flavour and colour.
“But we do not recognise them as such,” he said, “what we have permitted is Potable Spirits.”
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The dictionary meaning of potable is safe to drink or drinkable. So why had they permitted them in the first place? “What we want to find out is whether their brands were counterfeited. We are aware there exists an underground illegal counterfeit market,” he said.
Asked if there is a possibility the manufacturers themselves add toxic ingredients to the brands, Abong’s says it is highly unlikely.
But Nacada believes the flavours are made of methanol, the toxic alcohol unfit for human consumption.
“At the level of 50mg per litre, the flavour can kill you,” says Mututho.
He wonders how Kebs has failed to detect these anomalies as they chemically analyse samples, a prerequisite to being permitted to manufacture.
In the meantime, the crackdown on alcohol continues, with the ‘small man’, the retailer as MP Waweru says, being hit hard. But the manufacturers, who are said to rake in millions of shillings from alcohol, remain faceless.
We could not immediately get KRA to comment.
Waweru concludes: “After this exercise (the crackdown), we should be bold and confront the elephant in the room.”
Elsehwere, Deputy President William Ruto has said the government will not relent in the fight against illicit brews.
He said the government will thoroughly vet all alcohol beverages before licences are issued.
He said some alcohol beverages being sold to Kenyans do not meet the required standards.
He said: “We have issued a directive to Kebs that all those who will be issued with licences to manufacture alcohol from now on must be inspected thoroughly.”
Ruto said the country cannot move forward if half the population are drunkards. “We cannot accept to be a nation of drunkards, “ added Mr Ruto.
The Deputy President, however, asked Kenyans not destroy property in the name of fighting alcoholism.
“Let us not destroy property in the name of fighting alcoholism. Let us deal with the illegal beverages.”
He asked elected leaders to shun politics and focus on development.
He was speaking at Kagwe Girls Secondary School, Lari Constituency, Kiambu County when he presided over a function to construct a dormitory.
He was accompanied by MPs Mburu Kahangara, Kiragu Chege, Jude Njomo, Ferdinand Waititu, Moses Kuria, Alice Ng’ang’a, Kamau Ichung’wa, and Samuel Gichigi.