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CS Kuria critical of government he serves, faults war on brews, drugs

Cabinet Secretary for Public Service Moses Kuria. [File, Standard]

Cabinet Secretary for Public Service Moses Kuria has differed with the government on its approach in the fight against illicit brews and drug abuse and is now proposing for ‘softer and intellectual approach’ to the problem.

In what may be interpreted as ‘a fight from within’, Kuria on Monday during an interview on Spice FM claimed the government’s approach was ‘forceful and hard,’ saying policy implementation needs to be cognizant of the need to avoid sudden shut-offs.

He was reacting to the stringent measures issued by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Interior CS Kithure Kindiki to curb the alcohol menace in Mt Kenya region and the country at large.

The measures included the suspension of all licences for second-generation alcohol manufacturers and distillers pending fresh vetting and the order to close bars operating within 300 metre-radius of schools and residential areas.

Public officers who run bars were also directed to stop operations with immediate effect on grounds of conflict of interest.

However, Kuria said he believed that one of the biggest contributors to illicit brew is the taxation structure, accusing the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) of ‘subsiding the illicit brews’.

“I have sat with KRA people, we established that the kind of spirits being sold in the villages are 250ml that cost Sh250. Anyone selling that bottle for less than Sh250 certainly is not using the right ingredients, meaning it is outright poison or he is not paying taxes or both. Police should go all over and look for anyone selling the bottle for less than Sh250 and invite them for a cup of tea at the police station to share the formula,” Kuria said.

The CS said because of the lack of a system connecting the input tax from the exercise tax in the alcohol distilling process, most distillers end up not paying the input tax because of the tax deductions in the spirit-making process.

“Distillers buy ethanol, pay the input duty then convert the ethanol into spirit. At the point of production, they buy some staff from KRA where they now pay the exercise duty on the final product but due to the existence of the tax deductions, most of them end up not paying the initial tax they ought to pay,” Kuria said.

Finance Bill

He said he was proposing legislation in the 2024-2025 Finance Bill that would do away with tax deductions, a move he noted would contribute to ease of tax administration.

According to Kuria, the country needs to look for long-term solutions and poured cold water on the closure of bars, saying a similar exercise was carried out in 2015 but did not bear fruit.

“Sometimes we need to fight battles differently with new tactics, weapons and strategies. And this particular time, I’m convinced that we need a softer approach,” he said.

He said while he appreciated everyone wanted to do what was right for the country, policy implementation should not lead to disruptions.

“Do you shut off completely from old to new? Everything we are trying to do is right but the implementation needs to be cognizant of the need to avoid disruptions,” said Kuria. 

He said for the fight against the killer brews to be successful, it needs to be approached from the producer's perspective as it was difficult to address it from the consumer’s approach.

The CS said in as much as leaders are talking about policies, they should not lose sight of 10 million jobless Kenyans since they are the biggest existential threat to the country.

He also claimed the biggest threat to the success of the fight against illicit brews and drugs was ‘the absolute freedom’ that he claimed had reduced the country to an ‘activist country’.

“We could have a better regulated alcoholic beverage industry but because of the mindset of the country that if you try to put an order you are trampling on somebody’s rights, so it has been historically very difficult to bring law and order,” he said.

In yet another attack on the government he is serving, the CS claimed the government had mounted stumbling blocks for foreign investors who he said the country needed to provide employment for the jobless Kenyans.

In another criticism on the digital transformation spearheaded by the Information, Communication and Digital Economy, Kuria said one may think that the country was going digital yet the number of people seeking services at Huduma Centres suggested otherwise.

Huduma Centres

“Last year, we served 13 million individuals in the Huduma Centres, so you may think now we are going digital but still our people need assistance and you have to carry them slowly and smoothly and transition them to site,” Kuria added.

He said in the just concluded National Youth Service recruitment, he was shocked that nobody turned up for the recruitment in Kajiado as no one had attained the minimum D grade for the KCSE, saying ‘Kenya is officially a country of D-.

“As we have our lofty ambitions, we also have to tamper it when the reality of who we are as a people and that is how we are doing some things. The growth may not be felt by the D- minus people so you cut off a whole population,” he said.

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