Murang’a bar owners threaten suit over licensing tiff

Murang’a businessmen are threatening to sue Governor Irungu Kang’ata over selective licensing of liquor stores following push to reduce the number of outlets by up to 70 percent.

The governor announced plans to cut the number of bars in the county by blocking licenses to allow only 1,032 out of the 2,971 businesses who had applied.

The businesses say there has been no clarity on the process of denying legitimate businesses licenses some of who have been in operation for over 20 years and that imposing an upfront Kes10,000 fee just for application was punitive.

The meeting on Wednesday quickly turned chaotic after Deputy County Secretary Bernard Wanyoike announced the conditions for application to be considered with Simon Njoroge, the chairman of the Bar, Hotels and Liquor Traders Association (BAHLITA), saying the county government did not conduct a fair exercise in vetting and approving and the process was marred with corruption.

“The county government is being cunning when it says that we must pay the Kes10,000 for our appeals to be considered. If they insist on this, we’ll have no option but to sue and let the courts make a decision,” said Njoroge.

Last week, Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata said only 1,032 of the 2,971 who had applied for licences to operate liquor outlets were granted the licences.

But Njoroge said the process was unfair to deny business licenses without some set criteria which created an avenue for favoritism and corruption.

Some of the traders lamented that they have loans to service and closing down their business will see them lose their property to auctioneers.

“We know no inspection was done on the bars, and the approval for licensing was being done after one gives out money to those involved” said Njoroge.

“If the county is not going to license all the bars, it should close down all of them but we won’t allow only a few to operate,” he added noting that the area had over 4,000 bars.

Njoroge argued that denying the traders licences would result in the loss of jobs and incomes for thousands of people. Every bar employs at least three workers, with the trade around an establishment employing many more.

“If the county government has jobs and other opportunities where those people can work, it should tell us and shut all bars in the county. It is clear that there are a lot of interested parties when it comes to bars, and we saw during the inspection how much the MCAs were interested, so this fight must continue,” he added. 

The county government’s decision has been spurred by the drive at the national level led by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Ironically, one of the first decisions by the Kenya Kwanza administration was to authorize the reopening of 26 alcohol manufacturers that had been shut for reasons ranging from the use of counterfeit stamps and failing to meet standards as well as conflicts with the Kenya Revenue Authority over unpaid taxes.

Gachagua led a meeting in Nyeri in April where the measures to be taken to reduce alcohol and drug abuse were outlined.

While the raids on illicit alcohol have intensified over the past few months, the Deputy President has also been on a campaign to have the number of bars in the country reduced. In Murang’a, the traders argued that reducing the number of bars would not only be unfair to those who have been in operation and lead to unemployment but also amount to favouring some over others on the basis of corruption.

Boniface Gachoka, the Bahlita secretary general, said instead of slashing the number of bars, the government should focus on fighting the illicit brews and counterfeit liquor which have caused the menace especially in the central region.

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