It’s time to re­set the bar on al­co­hol laws

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - OPINION -

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.

GOR­DON MUTUGI

The writer is the chair­man of Al­co­holic Bev­er­ages As­so­ci­a­tion of Kenya (ABAK). gor­don­mu­tugi@kwal.co.ke

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