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Liquor traders’ battle illicit alcohol, urge for a sober conversation with the government

By Bernard Mulwa

Bar and hotel owners association have come together to speak on the ongoing national conversation on alcohol abuse across the country.

From the onset, Bahlita would like to acknowledge that the menace of alcohol abuse in our communities is a matter of concern both at the family and societal levels alike. While the recent move by the government to contain alcoholic abuse is welcome, there are some aspects of its implementation that we consider are not aligned with our expectations.

It is our considered view that the problem of illicit and counterfeit alcoholic drinks has largely been caused by the availability of cheap alcohol manufactured by dealers of fake products. This was further compounded by the laxity of security officers to heighten surveillance and enforcement mechanisms during the electioneering and transition period, especially during the 2022 General Elections. The result was that unscrupulous entrepreneurs took advantage of this lapse to conduct illegal business.

We note with great concern that part of the government’s plan against the sale of illicit alcohol is the reduction of licensed bars as well as the regulation of operating hours across various towns. We find this to be an affront to the efforts of Kenyan entrepreneurs who have invested their hard-earned money in running legitimate businesses that have in turn supported the livelihoods of thousands of young Kenyans and their families. Other auxiliary services like car wash, kinyozi and salons also risk closure if the government makes good its intention to implement these proposals.

It goes without saying that most of the illicit alcohol being sold around is done through unlicensed establishments, and even if we say that licensed entities are selling such alcohol is because the government has let its guard down and allowed the manufacturing of such alcohol. It is therefore improper for the government to punish even those entrepreneurs who are legitimately doing their business and paying the requisite taxes and levies.

We also wish to appeal to some County Governments like Murang’a which has vowed to implement the directive by the Deputy President, Rigathi Gachagua to reduce the number of licensed bars to reconsider their move. We are not opposed to any efforts to sanitize the alcoholic industry, what we are calling for is the involvement of all stakeholders during the implementation of some of these government policies. By bringing all of us to the table, we shall be able to have a deeper look at the grievances and get a way forward that serves all our interests without being seen as unfair to any party.

At the same time, as members of BAHLITA we wish to put it on record that a key component that has also led to the rampant alcohol abuse and increase in the production and sale of illicits is the continued increase of taxes on alcoholic drinks. A case in point is the proposed increase in the price of excise stamps through the Excise Duty Excisable Goods Management System) (Amendment) Regulations, 2023. If the amendments are approved as is, this will lead to an increase in the prices of beer and spirits with the common mwananchi bearing the brunt. It does not help matters that the rise comes just a few months after the implementation of the 6.3 percent adjustment for inflation that came into effect last October followed by a 10% increase in excise implemented in July 2022 following the 2022/2023 annual national budget.

The above amendments in law continue to push away millions of Kenyans from accessing safe alcohol because they have proved to be out of reach for many. On 28th September 2022 BAHLITA urged the Government not to increase excise duty on alcoholic drinks and we highlighted the impact that the increase would have on the survival of businesses and employment. Unfortunately, the government proceeded and implemented a double increase in excise duty in 2022 and we are now facing a risk of an increase in the price of the products with the proposed increase in excise stamps.

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