It’s time to reset the bar on alcohol laws
Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu promised during his campaigns to introduce laws that would guide alcohol consumption in his county. Our antiquated and confusing liquor laws are a major frustration to businesses and consumers, and have contributed to the proliferation of illicit and counterfeit alcohol in Kenya.
Kiambu has taken the brave decision to amend the 2013 liquor laws. The alcoholic beverages industry, and in deed the country, are keenly watching how Kiambu will treat the newly-drafted Kiambu Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill, 2017.
The alcohol industry in Kenya, through Alcoholic Beverages Association of Kenya (ABAK), prescribes to a strict code of conduct that supports self-regulation aimed at bringing sanity to the process of the manufacture, distribution, sale and marketing of alcohol in Kenya. Addressing the challenges in the industry has been difficult due to conflicting policy and regulatory guidelines at both levels of government.
Globally, there is consensus on the need to balance regulation of the alcohol industry by governments, industry and individuals. But for this to be successful, there is need to adopt a community-based participatory approach that will deal with alcohol misuse and associated ills, while conserving its economic benefits, avoiding punishing the majority who drink sensibly, and preventing deaths and crime due to illegal bootlegging.
This is why the Kiambu law initiative is a welcome and bold starting point.
At the onset, ABAK views alcohol as a social lubricant whose controlled consumption is a joint effort from regulator, manufacturer, distributor, retailer and the consumer. As such, a Bill that will make all alcohol players legally liable if they deal irresponsibly is a welcome idea.
The question now is, what is the significance of the ongoing review of the alcohol laws by counties?
The first major attempt to control the industry through the Alcohol Drinks Control Act, 2010 failed partly because the law prescribed a blanket solution for all alcoholrelated problems across the country. For example, opening and closing hours of bars and liquor-selling outlets was set without consideration of the unique socio-economic set up of various regions across the country.
The Act, famously known as the ‘Mututho law,’ was engineered to reduce access to alcohol with the ultimate aim being to lower consumption levels. It failed and even triggered an upsurge in the consumption of illicit brews. The biggest challenge in Kiambu and the greater Mount Kenya region is that a large proportion of the alcohol produced in that region is illicit.
Cheap illicit alcohol is an attractive option for poor Kenyans. The lack of regulation and quality control leads to mortality and blindness due to methanol poisoning. A good law will surely check these excesses.
Production and sale of alcohol brings in substantial taxes and is a major source of revenue for the government. One of the expectations is that such taxes will be used to fund treatment and rehabilitation of excessive consumers. Excise duty on alcohol contributed Sh60 billion in the last financial year. Considering that informal alcohol is in excess of 45 percent, it deprives the government of much needed revenue.
ABAK fully supports Kiambu’s move not only because it has potential to deal a permanent blow to the illicit alcohol menace, but because if executed properly, it can be a starting point in ensuring order in the consumption of safe liquor in the country.
However, this will only happen if the proposed laws are fair to manufacturers of legitimate alcoholic drinks and consumers.
The writer is the chairman of Alcoholic Beverages Association of Kenya (ABAK). firstname.lastname@example.org