After a nearly two-month standoff between betting companies and the government, Kenyans are waiting to see whether Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i will finally get his foot off the pedal as the deadlock rapidly takes a political angle.
This is as the Nation established that nearly half of the employees at the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB), right from Managing Director Liti Wambua, have been sent home as Dr Matiang’i continues to clean up the sector. Mr Wambua has been replaced by Mr Peter Mbugi.
Sources at the ministry told the Nation that BCLBs former management had become so close to some of the betting firms that they were getting in the way of the government’s attempt to clean up the sector.
However, as has happened in the past, politics has had a way of getting in the way of the most serious issues in the country, including the war on corruption. But the tough-talking Matiang’i, has managed to implement most of his policies in all the ministries in which he has served, even under great pressure.
On Tuesday, legislators, led by Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, said during a press conference they had summoned Dr Matiang’i to appear in Parliament to explain the impasse between the state and betting companies.
The MPs and senators demanded that the state reinstate the licences of 26 companies that were suspended. They gave a list of the disadvantages of the government crackdown on the industry, including crippling the sports sector, job losses, lack of funds to buy Braille machines and sunscreen for the disabled.
“Some individuals are misleading the President and CS Matiangi on the actual revenue of betting companies,” ‘said Mr Malala.
Only Mozzart Bet’s licence has been reinstated since July 1, when the government shut down 27 betting firms over a number of issues, including money laundering and tax evasion. It will be interesting to see whether the government will finally yield after two months of nearly crippling the booming industry.
Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura told the Nation that they intend to pile pressure on the government to bring it to the negotiating table with the betting industry, which is on the brink of death.
“Let us be realistic. If we kill the industry, it will be worse. The best thing for everyone is to ensure that there is tight regulation,” he said.
“It is not just sports that will suffer. Other people in society greatly benefit from the corporate responsibility of these firms. However, there are people personal interests in the betting industry so there is a push to get competitors out of the way,” Mr Mwaura said.
It is notable that the legislators’ initiative came just a day after betting firms put out full-page advertisements explaining themselves on the method the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) uses to collect taxes.
"We concur with the government on tax collection to meet its agenda but the methodology and interpretation of the term winnings gives the operators a bad image, especially with their customers, who do not understand that the contentious interpretation is from the government,” said the Association of Gaming Operators.
Whether the government will yield to the legislators’ demands of the legislators, only time will tell. A similar push by MPs in 2016 led to the collapse of a motion by Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo that was supposed to set up a special committee to investigate claims of tax evasion and money laundering in the multibillion-shilling industry.