Controlled alcohol drinking hours are back

January 24, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 24 – The High Court has now lifted an order barring the implementation of the controversial Alcoholic Drinks Act 2010 that imposed strict restrictions on drinking hours.

High Court Judge Daniel Musinga said the Act "provided a well thought legal framework" and dismissed the case filed by the Muranga Bar owners Association.

The association had claimed that the law was draconian and an infringement of their rights and bar patrons, but Justice Musinga overruled them saying "there was no proof that their rights had been violated following the implementation of the law."

"If there were no regulatory laws there would be total chaos. The Act is to secure the health and well being of consumers by controlling excessive consumption, production and sale of alcohol," Justice Musinga ruled.

The association\’s lawyer Jeremiah Mbuthia had argued in court that the Alcoholic Drinks Act 2010 and Regulations gazetted by Internal Security Minister George Saitoti on December 17 were draconian and had led to the arbitrary arrest of patrons and staff.

In his ruling the judge said the new law was not meant to negatively impact on the economy of the country and on the contrary, was helping to build a working nation.

"Economic development of a country is key and cannot be achieved if its labour force spends long hours drinking," he said.

"The stipulated hours are meant to control those in the labour force from drinking during working hours. It is matter of public interest and it\’s for the good of everyone that the Act remains in force."

Hundreds of people were early this month arrested and charged in court. Those who pleaded guilty were fined Sh30,000 or ordered to serve six months in jail in default.

Section 34 (a) of the Alcoholic Drinks Act of 2010 now commonly referred to as Mututho rules says alcohol should only be consumed between 5 pm and 11 pm during weekdays and from 2 pm on weekends in bars.

Anti-alcohol and drugs campaigners have welcomed the new rules, but bar owners and the country\’s all-important tourism sector have been highly critical.

Bars owners have complained of loss of business and some were contemplating layoffs due to the law which they claimed has seriously implicated on them.

Last year 55 bar owners from Embu made a similar application claiming that they were losing in excess of Sh1 million daily and their case is due in court on January 18.

The new law, which also clamps down on the deadly illicit brew known as changa\’a and attempts to curb underage drinking, was welcomed by anti-drug abuse campaigners.

But many restaurant, hotel and bar owners were left reeling by the new law and mulling their strategy to have some restrictions eased during the nine-month grace period granted to the affected parties by the new Act.

"This law is punitive, it\’s absolute nonsense," said one Nairobi bar owner. "It is also against the government\’s own blueprint of making this country a 24-hour economy."

In an immediate rejoinder, Assistant Minister for Youth and Sports Kabando wa Kabando praised the court ruling and said the new law must reign.

"No country in the world has ever prospered because of unregulated alcohol consumption. It is incumbent alcohol consumers and traders to now live with reality: regulation is paramount. Adjust and all will be well," the assistant minister said.

"Had the court nullified the rules, it would have created a constitutional crisis, as both the Executive and the Legislature had stamped respective consents to the Bill and thus the Act."

He said the courts cannot be used to repudiate the popular will and also demolish Executive authority.

"Kenyans must now brace for a new order, where alcohol drinking requires order and responsibility, for consumers, traders and manufacturers alike," he added. "The courts have done us proud."

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