The National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) has launched a multi-agency crackdown on businesspeople selling counterfeit liquor as efforts to nab tax evaders gather pace in Taita-Taveta County.
The operation, under the authority’s Rapid Results Initiative, has brought together officials from Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Revenue Authority, National Police Service and Department of Public Health.
Speaking in Voi on Tuesday after raiding several distribution premises and bars, Mr. Henry Thaithi, a NACADA official, said the operation was aimed at weeding out unscrupulous business people who were engaging in liquor business without paying required taxes.
He added that Taita-Taveta was a border county which was affected by smuggled liquor that was coming into the country through the porous Tanzania-Kenya border.
“This operation is intended to create awareness amongst traders on how to comply with all laws that govern the alcohol industry from taxation, health concerns and standards compliance,” he said.
Such operations are being conducted in all other border regions including Lungalunga, Mandera, Turkana, Migori, Namanga, Busia and Wajir.
Already, over 10 arrests have been made and three bars closed for non-compliance.
In Taveta sub-county, four traders were arrested for stocking smuggled beer from Tanzania.
The alcohol had no Kenya Revenue Authority tax receipts which meant their tax had not been paid.
In Voi, three arrests were made. The team also found over seven boxes of expired wines at a distributor’s outlet.
Mr. Thaithi said greedy traders sold the expired wines to revelers as part of recouping their profits for lost stock.
He warned that tipsy clients were drinking their way into early graves after they consumed alcohol that was unfit for human consumption.
“Some of these traders never dispose of expired alcohol. They sell it alongside the normal beer not caring what happens to the person who buys,” he said.
Another trader was at pains to explain how a bottle of Jonny Walker Black Label he was selling was found to be brandy by Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS) experts.
The trader said he had bought the beer from a depot in the town although he could not remember when.
Mr. Thaithi noted that there was need for the public to be cautious and scrutinise the drinks they were being offered in pubs and bars.
He warned that traders were notorious for rebranding alcohol brands and selling counterfeits to unsuspecting patrons.
He added that the government was losing millions of shillings in unpaid taxes through counterfeit goods and failure of traders to apply for compliance licenses.
“If you are importing goods from Tanzania, all the government agencies that deal with compliance are at the border post. You have no reason not to pay unless you are a law breaker,” he said.
Voi OCS Christopher Langat said the police were taking the issue of alcohol abuse seriously and would not hesitate to arrest any person thought to be smuggling alcohol and other counterfeit goods into the region.
The crackdown comes barely a month after 52 minors were arrested taking alcohol in Taveta town. The minors were arraigned in court and sentenced to two-year probationary sentence.
Officials say the proliferation of cheap alcohol in the region and weak regulations have emboldened greedy traders who are exploiting loopholes in law to engage in liquor business. Human rights groups have called for strengthening of monitoring capacities of different government agencies to allow comprehensive and constant inspection of different stocks of beer being sold in the region.
Al-Hajji Mwakio, chair of Taita-Taveta Human Rights Watch, said sale and consumption of alcohol needed strict regulations to make sure minors were shielded from crooked sellers who wanted to make a quick sale.
He appealed for devolvement of standards and monitoring office to make sure the region complied.
“We need KEBS and Nacada to have a branch locally where monitoring and frequent assessment of such alcoholic drinks will be done with ease,” he said. (KNA)