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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

..Mututho Laws need more 'teeth'...

Recently, an irate and clearly fed up chang’aa brewer in Kinungi, Naivasha disposed of several gallons of illicit chang’aa and destroyed his tools of trade citing police harassment through extortion.

Moses Njihia,the brewer,was irked by the fact that on a daily basis, despite the meager earnings from selling the brew he has to put aside some cash for bribing on patrol police officers lest they shut down his business premises. This is despite the fact that his was a licensed business and he was within the health and sanitation standards of production of the brew.

Provincial Administration destroying illicit brew

Njihia who had been trading in the brew for over 20 years claimed he had used between Sh600,000 and Sh1 million to bribe officers drawn from the regular and AP department.

This got me thinking about the efficacy of the Mututho laws. Let me begin by mentioning that the impetus towards regulating alcohol affected by the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act 2010 is a move towards the right direction.

However the ‘teething problem’ still being experienced since the Act came into force on 27th, November, 2010 leaves a lot to be desired. More so if one is to consider the devastation and social degradation on the productive generation due to alcohol abuse.

 This raises one pertinent question; is there an efficient operating legal framework for implementing the Mututho Laws?
A few months ago,if you recall, 13 people died in Banana area, Kiambu after consuming a lethal brew. This robbed a family of a breadwinner, a village, of a productive member of society and a country of an economy boosting generation of Kenyans.

Subsequently, following a directive by the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, 18 bars within the area were closed down and their owners arrested for selling the poisonous drink.This came as a relief to the women in this area who had been demonstrating with placards over the untold suffering they had to endure with absent husbands and deaths of their loved ones as a result of the illicit brew.

It is rather unfortunate that the loss of life catalyses long overdue action in the fight against illegal brews. Wouldn’t it have been prudent to enforce aversive mechanisms to such unnecessary calamities rather than scuttle for solutions when the proverbial milk has already been spilt?
Drinking beer from a shoe...?
During the weekend especially, social sites are abuzz with status updates of revelers enjoying themselves in various entertainment spots countrywide notably in the wee hours of the night, way past the stipulated closing hours-3a.m. 

This clear disregard of the law is further propagated by law enforcers who turn a blind eye to the perpetrators. In Nairobi West for example, it is common to find bars still open way past 11 pm. The ones that appear closed harbor patrons stealthily enjoying their drink till daybreak.
Karanja (not real name), a bar owner in Kangemi confesses that he spends at least sh. 5000 monthly on bribes to police on night patrol to ensure business continues as usual after 11pm daily. 
This, he says, is exorbitant considering that his business thrives on selling of keg beer and cheap bottled liquor.
In Kibera slums however, business at a local busaa den continues unhindered as revelers enjoy their local brew. Most of the patrons are oblivious of the Mututho laws.
Mary (not real name), a busaa brewer, confesses to me that she opens for business as early as 7am.”Life is hard. If I remain closed up to 5 pm, where will I get money for maize flour?” she poses. 

True to her word, her ‘regular customers’ start trooping in demanding a quick glass or two before disappearing into the murky trenches of the expansive slum.

She is quick to add that police harassment is a common feature she has learnt to live with over time. Though she has been vetted by the District administration and possesses a valid license for her brewing, from her paltry sales, she still has to part with a considerable amount as ‘protection fees’.

However, in giving Caesar his due, there is notable progress in the production, sale, promotion and consumption of alcoholic drinks in accordance to the Mututho laws.
The few incidences arising from non-conformity to recommended standards ought to be addressed through the law with a view to reducing the harm occasioned by alcoholic drinks.
These should encompass the entire spectrum of the alcoholic drinks industry from production to consumption. 

Notable also is the role of The District Alcoholic Drinks Regulation Committee in issuing licenses following thorough vetting and inspection of licensed premises.

In Westlands for example, the area DC Flora Mworoa, recently said that in conjunction with the area Security Council, she will embark on an exercise to rid the area of unlicensed bars.
She said such establishments were propagating social decay and were a contributing factor to the rise of orphans, street families and HIV/AIDS prevalence in the area.

In a study carried out in 2007 by NACADA, it was revealed that nationally, 13% of the population consumes alcohol and that illicit brews and second generation alcohol including chang’aa are consumed by over 15% of 15–64 year olds.

Alcohol abuse has also been attributed to social dissonance, failing health, decreased productivity and road carnage, among others.

In light of the recent happenings, Naivasha MP John Mututho promised to move a censure motion against Internal Security minister George Saitoti.

Mzee wa kazi John Mututho...

 "It is disheartening that the Ministry of Internal Security has been accused of laxity and the minister himself is not acting. We have lost a generation to this cheap liquor," he lamented.

Before any more lives are lost, more stringent action is required.
Firstly, courts, which have been identified as impediments to the implementation of the act, need to be re-evaluated.

This is to ensure that perpetrators are not let scott free with a minimum slap on the palm penalty. Chang’aa brewing for example is considered as a petty offence and most offenders pay as little as five hundred shillings fine or community service or are released on cash bails.

Secondly, enforcers of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act 2010 need to be disciplined and incorruptible. This will rid such cases as bribing in licensing of bars that do not conform to the required standards.

Thirdly, though the Act has good intentions, it also needs to be reviewed. The law has not reduced the volumes of alcohol taken. By restricting drinking hours, it has pushed people to binge drinking within the drinking-hours window period.

Furthermore, a new trend has emerged where people have resorted to drinking at home rather than in pubs. This has exposed children to alcohol drinking at home.

Fourthly, since the Act has already been legislated, the Executive needs to append a signature on the Act and have it Gazzetted to give the Act more ‘teeth’ as a law.

Fifthly, the government can also offer incentives to local manufacturers of such brews as mnazimuratina and busaa. These brews if manufactured hygienically without any harassment from security authorities can be marginally taxed by the government and sold legally.  

Finally, there needs to be checks and balances in regulating the law. Inspectors need to conduct periodical assessments on the alcohol content consumers are being exposed to.

 Though not exhaustive, such measures will go a long way in making Mututho Law more effective.

The Scribe rests his pen......

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