‘Confusion’ reigns over plastic bag levy

Plastics bag 'levy' has encouraged consumers not to toss plastic bags away as they did in the past
Plastics bag 'levy' has encouraged consumers not to toss plastic bags away as they did in the past

The collection of plastic bag levy remains shrouded in mystery since no one, including government, wants to own up to the responsibility of collecting the money made from the sale of plastics.

BusinessWeek has learnt that since the levy was imposed in 2007, consumers have forked out millions of Pula to retail stores from the compulsory plastic bag levy that should have been used to fund environmental initiatives but government is yet to collect the proceeds.

The Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) yesterday distanced itself from the collection of the plastic bag levy, stating that it is instead the responsibility of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

BURS communications specialist, Refilwe Moonwa said they are not mandated with collecting the levy funds.


“We are not the ones who should collect the plastic bag levy. I understand the Ministry of Trade is the one that should be responsible for the collection,” she said.

Efforts to obtain a comment from the Ministry proved futile as the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Peggy Serame was unreachable.

However, Dichaba Molobe, the director of policy advocacy for the Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM), which recently re-branded to Business Botswana, said if there is a levy it should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism to collect it.

Surprisingly, the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism stated that the plastic bag levy was never introduced. 

Chief public relations officer in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Alice Mmolawa stated that shops have been selling plastic bags, which was misunderstood by some members of the public to be a plastic levy.  “If the levy was put in place the appropriate structure for its collection would have been established by Ministry of Trade and Industry statutes,” she said.

According to Mmolawa, in the event that a levy is put in place, the role of BURS would then be its collection through appropriate statutes and structures. She further stated that government has not failed to collect the plastic levy because the levy was never introduced to begin with.  Kgalagadi Plastic Industries managing director Raj Patel said the law in 2007 was for the change in specification of plastic carrier bags from a thin to a thicker bag.

“From my knowledge I do not think a law was passed for charging a levy on the bag. Between the shops and the manufacturer no one gets the levy,” he said.

Patel explained that as manufacturers they produce the plastic carrier bag and when they sell the plastic bags they can add the levy amount onto the price of the bags. He noted that thereafter, the manufacturer could do a monthly reconciliation, adding that as they pay the value added tax (VAT) they pay the levy amount to BURS.

“An article in the paper indicated that they do not know how to collect the levy, which was quite surprising. BURS’ role would also be to collect levy as they collect VAT at the borders on all imports of plastic carrier bags as we do,” he said.

Patel added that they needed approval from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) before they sold carrier bags into South Africa to ensure that they meet the required standard.

“In this case, it is evident that the Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) also has a role to play in this as well,” he said.

Patel also reiterated that the government has lost good revenue in not implementing the plastic levy as the funds could have been used for recycling or clean-up projects.

“The law in 2007 for plastic carrier bags in Botswana was similar to the one in South Africa. But in South Africa, the levy was imposed from the day the law was in effect,” he said.

Earlier on during the Public Accounts Committee meeting, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Elias Magosi had said the collection of the money from the levy was supposed to be done by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

“As much as the levy was passed in 2007, collection of the money has not happened,” he confirmed.

Magosi explained that the government initially introduced the levy in order to reduce the use of plastic bags on account of environmental concerns.

While the price of plastic bags has meant consumers have not tossed them away as readily as they did in the past, resulting in a noticeable reduction of plastic bag litter, none of the money has been used to recycle plastic bags, nor have any recycling jobs been created.

Parliament passed the plastic bag amendment to the Waste Management Act in August 2006 and the new law was implemented the following year.

Shoppers in Botswana began paying between 15 and 25 thebe for the plastic bags they get from supermarkets in 2007.

Currently, some shops charge as much as 50 thebe for a bag. The levy followed the introduction of the Plastic Carrier Bags and Flat Bags Specification by the BOBS.

The law, which came into force on May 12, 2007, requires shops to use bags of a thickness of not less 24 microns.

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