DP Rigathi Gachagua maintains that his proposal will help curb alcoholism in the region.
DP Rigathi Gachagua maintains that his proposal will help curb alcoholism in the region, but critics fear the impact it would have on jobs and local economies.

A proposal by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua for county governments in Central Kenya to limit issuance of licenses for bar-and-restaurant businesses has sparked a storm.

Gachagua is pushing county governments in the Mt. Kenya region to cut the number of the entertainment joints whose licenses allow them to operate late into the night, as opposed to regular bar licenses requiring them to close at 11 pm. According to the DP, the action would give impetus to efforts to curb alcoholism in Central Kenya.

A large section of Kenyans including business owners in the industry have spoken up against the proposal, even as others support it citing the dire impact of alcoholism in the region.

“I urge all the county governments from Mt Kenya region to go back to the round table and revoke the many licenses you have issued to bars and restaurants as they are destroying our children because you are looking for money to construct roads,” Gachagua had stated in Murang’a.

“When these roads are (built) who will use them? Bars are more than shops and hotels. Only one bar and restaurant should be licensed in each town. All the others must be closed down and opened from 5 to 11pm,” he continued.

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Bar operators have voiced opposition to Rigathi’s proposal, decrying the impact such a move would have on jobs in the sector and local economies. Bars, Hotels and Liquor Traders Association (BAHLITA) Simon Njoroge questioned the rationale behind the plan.

He maintained that cutting the number of licensed bars would not help in the fight against illicit liquor.

“Bar owners do not manufacture alcohol, the efforts should be directed on ensuring whether the products sold in our premises has met the required standards. We have been in record supporting government’s efforts to fight illicit brews in the country,” Njoroge stated.

He called, instead, for authorities to focus their energies on ensuring bars and restaurants were compliant with all regulations.

Observers have also pointed out the inconsistency with Gachagua’s statements earlier in January defending bars and nightclubs operating in the capital, Nairobi after Governor Johnson Sakaja directed the closure of all bars in residential areas amid increased complaints on noise pollution. At the time, Gachagua maintained that the bar owners should be consulted and given time to sound-proof their establishments before being shut down, observing that they had valid licenses from the county government.

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