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Alcohol traders accuse state officials of extortion

UDA Manager Nairobi Roy Smith Mwatia address members of the Small and Medium Liquor Traders Association (MELTA) who were demanding review of licensing terms of bars and restaurants at Public Service Club, Upperhill, Nairobi on April 15,2024 [Robert Tomno, Standard]

Bar owners have raised concerns over rising cases of extortion by individuals, disguising as government enforcement officers.

Describing the situation as a matter of urgency, the liquor traders are now asking for government’s intervention to protect them from the crooks even as the fight against illicit brew continues. Under the aegis of Small and Medium Liquor Traders Association (Melta), the traders said the industry has incurred significant losses due to the gaps emerging in the regulations enforcement process.

Speaking during a Melta consultative forum in Nairobi on Monday, the alcohol traders urged the government to collaborate with them in eradicating counterfeit liquor products. 

“These crackdowns are at times occasioned by persons who cannot even identify themselves, leaving a wide room for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of our members,” said Frank Mbogo, the association’s chairman.

Mbogo said the fraudsters have unleashed economic terror on their businesses, leaving members counting huge losses. Slightly over a month now, the government has been on illegal business within the liquor sub-sector by introducing new measures that included suspension of operation licenses and permits.

Fresh vetting would then follow to have only verified alcohol manufacturers, distillers and liquor shops resume operation, according to the Ministry of Interior, a process that was expected to be completed on March 27.

Mbogo, however, accused the government of sidelining them in the process, claiming that it is marred with inconsistencies.

He urged the government to collaborate with them to address the gaps in the process.

The Melta official noted that the closing down of some “legitimate” liquor businesses has resulted in loss of jobs and livelihoods.

“Our message to the government and the government is clear; we are not criminals, but hardworking entrepreneurs who contribute to the fabric of our society,” he stated.

He added: “While Melta stands firm in supporting the eradication of illicit brew and drug abuse, we recognise that such unfair enforcement measures threaten jobs and livelihoods in its industry ecosystem.”

The association’s lawyer Gitau Gikonyo reiterated the need for the government to lend them a listening ear, saying that it is the only way the controversies emerging will be resolved.

“We are asking the government to listen to us...we want to do this together,” he said and called on the government to support women who have invested in the sector.

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