Hospitality industry spared by a whisker of draconian anti-booze bill

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(eTN) – The well-founded fears of a devastating fallout from an ill-considered bill, attempting to prohibit and criminalize the consumption and sale of alcoholic drinks over the election period in March this year, have been put to rest as Kenya’s Parliament failed to pass the proposals into law.

Busy on their last day of formal business with awarding themselves a multi-billion Kenya shilling send-off package, which was to include State Funerals, staff, VIP benefits, security provisions, and over US$100,000 worth of additional payouts, the MPigs, as they are now commonly called by Kenyans in the end, ran out of time. President Kibaki subsequently anyway rejected to assent to what was immediately called the Theft Bill earning himself praise from the Kenyan society and business community.

The anti-drink bill would have made it a criminal offense for tourists to order and then consume alcoholic drinks while on vacation over the period between March 2-4 inclusive, and hoteliers and restaurants would also have faced massive fines and jail time. MPs, when putting the draft bill together, had singularly failed to consult or take the immediate objections from the country’s all-important hospitality and tourism businesses into consideration, a sign of how removed from reality the members of parliament in their final days of office were.

“Our trade association, the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, estimated the loss of revenue to be in the 1.5 billion shilling margin. Personally, I think it could have been twice as much, because of the potential loss of tourists coming here in the first place. This draconian measure would have been used by our competitors to decampaign us seriously. Already now we hear of whispers overseas that some destinations are ready to pick up traffic because of our election fears. But the anti-booze law would have been the worst blow. Imagine police arresting tourists at the beach or the pool on those days for enjoying a cold beer or cocktails and what negative publicity it would have caused. And all because that fellow Mututho has issues with alcohol, and his colleagues had deposited their brains at the door. At least that is now done and dusted, that period will be tough as it is all on its own for us,” said a regular source from Nairobi.

While parliament could in theory still demand on more session via a petition to the speaker on Monday, this is thought to be unlikely, and the formal closure of parliament on Wednesday will ring in the campaign period for the next elections with a range of new offices like Senators and Governors up for grabs in what many think as the most hotly-contested election ever in Kenya’s history. Tourism sources, somewhat reluctant to discuss the issue in public, privately concede their worries considering the fallout of the 2007 elections in early 2008, when for weeks political chaos translated into violence in the streets across Kenya. While no tourists did come to harm as a result of the private sector closely working together with security agencies, the fallout for the sector was devastating at the time and caused widespread business closures and layoffs of staff.

“I hope our politicians are more mature this time and will put country before themselves. And I think our police will be prepared much better this time, also our General Service Unit, to deploy in hot spots and prevent violence from breaking out if the results are not going the way some expect and hope for. So it is not all gloomy, there is confidence around, too, that things will be ok,” added the same source when asked about an opinion, on assurance of not being named. Election time in Kenya and all relevant information will be right here, as usual.