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Why Kenya Police Should Not License Liquor Stores



In a statement made on Monday 26 February 2024, Kenya Police Inspector General Japhet Koome proposed that the licensing of liquor stores be overseen by the police, maintaining that it is a security issue not fit to be handled by governors. While this suggestion may seem pragmatic on the surface, a deeper examination reveals significant drawbacks and potential hazards associated with such a policy.

Entrusting the licensing of liquor stores to the police raises serious concerns about conflict of interest and abuse of power. Already, Kenya Police is eye-ball deep in accusations of corruption and misconduct in various spheres of operation. Kenyans will readily identify with the numerous incidents of police officers raiding wines and spirits establishments for quick money in what has colloquially come to be known as “financing”. Granting them control over liquor licensing will likely exacerbate matters and create more opportunities for bribery, favouritism, and exploitation of business owners.

Law enforcement agencies lack the necessary expertise and resources to effectively regulate the liquor industry. Licensing requires a nuanced understanding of public health concerns, zoning regulations, and community welfare, areas that fall outside the primary mandate of the police. Without specialised knowledge and training, police officers will struggle to make informed decisions about licensing applications, leading to inconsistencies and potential oversights.

Centralising liquor licensing within the police force will hinder transparency and accountability in the process. Unlike independent regulatory bodies or local authorities, the police operate with less scrutiny and oversight, making it easier for irregularities to occur without detection. This lack of transparency undermines public trust in the licensing system and opens the door to bias and impropriety.

Furthermore, concentrating licensing power in the hands of the police may have unintended consequences for law enforcement priorities and public safety. Kenya Police already faces numerous demands on its time and resources, including crime prevention, investigation, and community engagement, not to mention the ubiquitous bandit menace in the North Rift. Adding liquor licensing to their repertoire will only divert attention away from core policing functions and compromise efforts to combat crime and maintain public order.

An alternative approach to liquor licensing would involve establishing an independent regulatory body or empowering local government authorities to oversee the process. These entities are better equipped to handle the complexities of licensing, drawing on specialised expertise and engaging with stakeholders to ensure fair and transparent decision-making.

Decentralising licensing authority could promote greater accountability and responsiveness to local needs and preferences. By involving community representatives in the licensing process, regulators can better assess the impact of liquor outlets on neighbourhoods and tailor licensing decisions to reflect broader social objectives, such as promoting public health and reducing alcohol-related incidents.

While Koome’s proposal to entrust the licensing of liquor stores to the police may appear practical on the surface, it raises significant concerns regarding transparency, accountability, and potential conflicts of interest. Rather than centralising licensing authority within law enforcement, we would be better served by adopting a more nuanced and decentralised approach that prioritises public health, community welfare, and regulatory integrity.