• Company CEO Tabitha and her husband, Muigai, spend night in their Naivasha offices as DCI and KRA officers camp outside
• County chief says the quest to enhance tax collection must be balanced with the need to protect businesses and jobs
Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui and traders have accused the Kenya Revenue Authority of mistreating Keroche Industries.
Kinyanjui said the taxman and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are out to reduce entrepreneurs to fugitives in their own country.
The sentiments came a day after the Naivasha-based brewer was put on the spot for allegedly failing to pay Sh14 billion in taxes.
Company CEO Tabitha Karanja and her husband, Joseph Muigai, spent the night in their Naivasha offices as DCI and KRA officers waited outside to pounce on them.
Without naming names, however, Karanja has blamed her tribulations on competitors. The company has launched KB Lager, which retails at Sh120.
"Courtesy demands that DCI or KRA officers summon us over the tax allegations, but this has not been done. We see the hand of our competitor in this," she said.
On Wednesday, DPP Noordin Haji ordered the couple be arrested for failing to remit tax from 2015 — an allegation the company has dismissed.
Governor Kinyanjui defended the brewer. In a statement, he said the quest to enhance tax collection must be balanced with the need to protect businesses and jobs.
"We are greatly saddened by the manner in which KRA is treating local investors and in particular how they have treated the Keroche Industries," he said.
Kinyanjui said more than 500 employees are directly engaged by the company and thousands of others are indirect beneficiaries. The individuals and their families stand to lose big time if the matter is not handled properly, he cautioned.
"While there may be tax matters that require redress, it would be an act of utmost betrayal to Kenyans who have built their businesses over the years to be reduced to fugitives," Kinyanjui said.
Lakeview MCA Karanja Mburu also waded into the debate. He said Keroche is one of the major investors in Nakuru county and suggested an out-of-court settlement. He said the Constitution provides for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, hence the issue should be tackled amicably without "chest-thumping".
"The country should not criminalise local investors at the expense of multinational companies. We are wondering what happened to the ideology of 'buy Kenya build Kenya'," he said.
For its part, the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry cautioned that hundreds of people risk losing their jobs. He urged the government to takes its cue from other countries that support their local investors.
"We must treat the owners of capital with caution. Otherwise, we shall be staring at major job losses and loss of confidence from investors," Naivasha branch chairman Stephen Thuo said.
(Edited by F'Orieny)