DILEMMA

7pm or 9pm? bar and restaurant operators confused

They lament police harassment despite defined operating hours.

In Summary

•Tourism CS Najib Balala recently clarified that restaurants are allowed to operate up to 9pm, from a previous closure time of 7pm, warning against harassment and extortion.

•Some now say they are forced to close as early as 6.30 pm.

Attendants clean a bar in Nairobi/FILE
Attendants clean a bar in Nairobi/FILE
Image: FILE

I had a meeting in town on Tuesday and my friends had asked me to meet them in one of the bar and restaurants in Nairobi Central Business District.

I got into the restaurant at around 6pm and found the meeting underway.

Food and drinks had been ordered so I jumped into the conversation that was already underway.

An hour later, that was around 7pm, two uniformed regular police officers walked into the bar and restaurant which is on the first floor of one of key buildings in the city.

They ordered the place to be shut down since operating hours had lapsed.

The owner argued that he was operating a bar and restaurant , and that he had closed bar services, which was true, and the only service they were offering was food and soft drinks.

The officers insisted on closure or the owner parts with Sh3,000.

After about 30 minutes of arguing,  the police officers left,  not sure if they got what they wanted.

The place was quickly shut with clients told to take away their food.

This is the plight of hundreds of operators in Nairobi and other parts of the country who are struggling to break even, in the wake of Covid measures put in place to contain the virus.

Confusion continues to mar the industry as bar ans restaurant owners remain unsure of what time to call it a day,  amid complains of  police harassment, in what seems to be two different communications from the interior ministry and the tourist ministry.

This, even after Tourism CS Najib Balala recently clarified that restaurants are allowed to operate up to 9pm, from a previous closure time of 7pm. Curfew time is 10pm to 4am.

He warned against extortion of these premises by law enforcement agencies.

I understand some enforcement officers will go to restaurants and force them to close down at 7pm other wise that game of extortion takes place. I want to make it very clear that 9pm is when everything must be shut down. 8.30 you stop serving, 9pm everybody is out,” he clarified.

The CS spoke during a briefing on the revised magical Kenya tourism and travel health and safety protocols, which industry players have played a big role in formulating.

Sector players, who have together with the ministry agreed to self-regulate, include the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC), Bar Hotels Liquor Traders Association (BAHLITA) and Pubs Entertainment and Restaurant Association of Kenya (PERAK).

KAHC chief executive Mike Macharia urged sector players to adhere to the set rules, noting the government has given the industry a life-line by increasing operating hours, as opposed to declaring a lock-down in the wake of the new Covid strain.

We have seen the industry beginning to pick up. We need to deliver our services in a safe manner,” Macharia said.

About three weeks later, PERAK officials met the Nairobi Police Commander Augustine Nthumbi, head of operations Saidi Kiprotich and other senior officers to discuss challenges and issues in the sector.

“ It was clearly agreed that only alcoholic selling entities should close door at 7pm (purely bars) while entities selling food and alcoholic beverages to close door at 9pm(bars and restaurants).

However the business owners should strictly follow the set protocols and guidelines,” notes from PERAK, seen by the Star note.

It was agreed that a clarified memo shall be circulated to OCPD'S and OCS'S in all divisions.

“As an association we have been tasked to self regulate ourselves thus a list of 2021 subscribed members will be submitted to avoid hassle with the police. The list is to be compiled in every division,” PERAK secretariat says.

The QRU (Quick Response Unit) team has assured us of smooth operations and if any member experience harassment should forward the same to the secretariat,” it adds.

The chairmen raised the recent cases of police harrasment and extortion experienced in different areas (sub-counties) from the OCPD's and OCS's.

However, operators continue to complain with a spot check by the Star noting early closures in Lang'ata, Nairobi West,  Kilimani,  Ngong Road and Kiambu Road among other areas.

“We dont have a choice but to close to avoid confrontations with the police,” an operator in Nairobi West told the Star.

An operator in Lang'ata had earlier said: We stop selling of alcohol by 7pm and continue to serve food but the police push us to close even as early as 6.30pm.”

Area OCPD Benjamin Mwanthi however dismissed the claims saying only the sale of alcohol is stopped at 7pm.

None has been harassed. We are just following the directives where sale of alcoholic drinks closes at 7pm but they are allowed to serve food until 9pm,” Mwanthi told the Star.

This is however contradicting BAHLITA response to the Star where it noted existing harassment of its members in the area, which has about 890 bars, hotels and liquour outlets.

I am aware of what is going on in Lang'ata and those are acts of selfishness because Najib Balala made a very clear clarification in a recent circular. That person (OCPD) is trying to put his own way of regulations and we don't know where he is getting powers from,”said BAHLITA Secretary-General Boniface Gachoka.

The association has been keen to make an official complain to the Inspector General of police on harassment of outlets not only in Lang'ata, but other regions where members have complained.

In mid August, officers from Karen Police Station came under the spotlight for storming into a restaurant – Spasso Restaurant and Bar at Karen Shopping Centre,and carted away an assortment of drinks.

IG Hillary Mutyambai ordered a probe into the incident.

When the pandemic hit in March last year, over 350,000 jobs were lost in bar operations alone, but some employees were recalled after the partial re-opening of the economy in September.

There are over 40,000 bars in Nairobi, most of which have been hoping the partial re-opening would give the much needed cushion to remain in business as they equally provide employment opportunities and revenue to government.

Closure and the limited operations saw KRA miss out about Sh6.3 billion in excise revenuesEconomic Survey 2021.

Excise revenue levied on beer, wines and spirits fell to Sh34.8 billion from Sh41.4 billion in 2019.

Those from beer were hard hit having fallen from Sh27.8 billion to Sh19.1 billion.