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Trades Say No Levy Will 'Throttle Throats'

Staff Writer
Last April, the government implemented regulations reducing liquor trade hours, but the High Court subsequently ruled that nightclubs may continue trading in accordance with the old hours until they expire.

But just when tipplers were beginning to enjoy themselves, the government is at it again. This time, the announcement about 'throttling throats' was made by none other than President Ian Khama himself, Botswana's most celebrated teetotaller, at a no less venerable place than the kgotla of a small village.

Addressing BaKwena of Metsimotlhabe near Gaborone last week, Khama disclosed that the government was going to slap a 70-percent levy on all alcoholic beverages with effect from next month, adding that if people continued to bend the elbow, he would raise the penal levy to 100 percent or by another 70 percent!

When he was Vice President, the renowned anti-alcohol crusader once indicated that if he had the power, he would outlaw consumption of alcohol all together.

At the Metsimotlhabe Kgotla last week, Khama, now President and presumably sufficiently empowered, pronounced consumption of alcohol "wrong".

The new liquor regulations in which he was considerably foiled by the courts had taken effect on April 1, the day Khama was inaugurated as President of the Republic of Botswana.

Today, as then, liquor traders have reacted with consternation to news of the 'punitive levy,' rejecting it for fear that it is going to kill their businesses.

Thuto Mokgwathi, who operates a trendy liquor restaurant in Gaborone, says the levy will impoverish Batswana. Yet Mokgwathi believes that no amount of levy will deter people from drinking. "They (the government) are not addressing the problem," he says.

For him, the way to go is to rehabilitate drinkers, especially alcoholics.

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For such rehabilitation to be effective, Mokgwathi proposes that liquor traders be involved.

He is an official of the Liquor Traders Association, which has been proposing what he calls "sin tax", but not of President Khama's magnitude. But the association has not taken a stand on the latest development.

A Gaborone liquor trader who prefers anonymity says she fears that people are going to use money budgeted for food to buy liquor. Another liquor trader, Rebecca Daniel of Heroes Bar in Bobonong, says she sees her business going to the wall soon.

Daniel sees herself as a contributor to employment creation in the rural areas. She is opposed to the imposition of a heavy levy on alcohol because it will only make matters worse as business has been going down since the reduction of trading hours. It is her view that instead of slapping punitive levies, the government should be encouraging people to drink with moderation.

Nelson Sefawe of Dino Mpolae in Ramotswa is also aggrieved by the imminent introduction of the steep liquor levy and the spectre of closure it represents.

He says his customers will be forced to dig deeper into their pockets but that even so, some of them will raise nothing by the effort.

But the manager of Serowe Hotel, Vivian Watson, is going to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Like Mokgwathi, Watson does not think the steep levy will stop people from drinking, though she says similar measures have worked in other countries.



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