Murang’a bar owners are in shock following Governor Irungu Kang’ata’s move to close half of them while rejecting new licence applications.
Famed for being the ‘testing’ place for new third generation brews in the market, Dr Kang'ata said this will now be a thing of the past.
"We will shed off that tag ... Murang'a will now be known for sober people reflecting the aspirations of a working county. We will not entertain that tag of guinea pigs in third generation brews market and a free for all drinking culture," he said.
He revealed that the county had received 4,647 bar licence applications. The bars that were licensed in the 2022/23 fiscal year were 2,291. Of the 4, 647 total bar licence applications, only 2,982 were considered to be worth vetting.
Of the 1, 699 that had been vetted by close of April 15, a total of 840 — accounting for 49.44 per cent — had been rejected.
This is an average pattern of 50 per cent dismissal of licences that has seen some owners evade inspection to avoid an outright dismissal.
Already, Maragua MP Mary wa Maua has cried foul, saying there are bar owners who had conspired with the vetting officials and paid bribes for endorsement.
“That exercise has been ordered cancelled and a fresh vetting commenced. We are going to remain vigilant to ensure that this culture of death that is reckless alcoholism powered by immoral greed for profits is confronted and defeated,” she said.
In the fresh wave of inspections that the county team executed in Maragua, out of 608 applications, according to data Dr Kang’ata released on Monday, 120 have been inspected and 63 of them rejected.
In Kiharu sub county, out of the 445 bars inspected, 237 have been rejected. It is the same trend in Gatanga sub-county where out of 433 applications, 310 were inspected and 132 rejected.
Some of the operators were denied licences in Murang’a town after 131 children complained to the county commissioner about noisy bars.
Their guardians Ms Mary Njuguna, Mr Peter Mark Ngethi and Evangelist Mary Wambua, representing the minors aged between a week and 17 years said “the bars’ booming music is being played in utter disregard of our right to peace of mind, quality sleep, peaceful execution of homework and right to choose music to listen to”.
According to the data, Kigumo sub-county had 360 applications, where 217 bars have been inspected and 114 rejected.
In Kandara, of the 283 bars inspected, 117 were rejected, while Kangema posted 274 applications and of the 210 inspected, 99 have been rejected. Mathioya sub-county placed 266 applications and so far 188 have been inspected and the verdict to close down has hit 98 bars.
Dr Kanga’ta warned those evading inspection and said bar owners who will not have been vetted by June 1 will be deemed to have abandoned the trade.
He said it is impossible to corrupt the process since everything is being processed electronically and there will be no manual approvals.
This was after some bar owners revealed a scheme by a cartel comprising senior administrators and county government officials demanding bribes to help them survive the purge.
"We are now receiving calls and messages from people introducing themselves as members of bar vetting committee. We are being advised to pool together Sh50,000 from each bar so that we can have our licences renewed for 2023/24 year," said Mr James Kiama, the chairman of the Murang'a Bar Owners and Workers Union.
One of the messages seen by Nation.Africa sent on April 14 reads: "Good morning, the liquor licensing court that has county commissioner and governor representatives is about to issue 2023 licences. Treat this as confidential. Send Sh50,000 to this number and your licence will be guaranteed.”
Some bar owners told Nation.Africa that some of those demanding bribes are well known administrators, members of county assembly, county employees and bar officials.
Those applying for nightclub licences are being told to pay Sh300,000, creating another avenue for bribery.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua who is spearheading the exercise in Central region has since announced that those targeted are bars near places of worship, hospitals or schools.
“We are also targeting reducing nightclubs and bars in villages. We want fewer bars than hotels and household goods’ shops in our market centres,” he said when he recently met Central region governors and security bosses in Nyeri County.
Besides reduction of bars, the broader programme also seeks to rid the region of illicit brews, narcotics and corrupt security officers who abet the crimes.
Supporting the purge, Murang'a Woman Rep Betty Maina said: "There is no economic emancipation programme in the bottom-up maxim that will ever work in an environment of alcoholic and drug abuse wrecks. What we will reap in it are tears and anguish.”
She added: “Murang’a people of goodwill are tired of being witness to productive people killing themselves and greedy alcohol and narcotics’ dealers annihilating their own population."
Murang'a South Deputy County Commissioner Gitonga Murungi warned bar owners against bribing officials for licences.
“If I happen to get information that you are bribing to get a licence, that will be good ground for us to recommend that you be denied an opportunity to own a bar."
The red flag has been raised proliferation of wines and spirits shops, bhang, tobacco and abuse of prescription drugs — benzodiazepines —by the youth.
However, some central region leaders have remained guarded in the ongoing crackdown against bars, illicit brews and narcotics.
“People take alcohol because they are idle. They get hooked on cheap brews because they are poor. The problem is not the brewers or the retailers … The problem is the disillusionment among us the youth. Keep them occupied and they will keep off negative lifestyles without the law prompting them to,” Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni said.
He said: “We are protesting against youth joblessness, small scale investors being overburdened by taxes and law made their enemy...we will only support eradication of moonshine but not reducing existing jobs in licensed bars."
Mr Kioni said there are an estimated 15,000 bars in Nyandarua, Murang'a, Kiambu, Kirinyaga and Nyeri counties employing more than 50,000 low income earners.
"The greatest irony is that, those targeted to be rendered jobless starting from barmaids, food and merchandise hawkers … are the very same hustlers who were told that this is their government of unlimited opportunities," Mr Kioni said.
Mr Kioni said the Jubilee Party will make bar workers an agenda in the ongoing national conversation “and we will not allow them being kicked into joblessness since they have children in school, rent to pay and mouths to feed”.