Khama steps up war on alcohol

Staff Writer
Only days after Kgalagadi Breweries and Botswana Breweries successfully had the government's 30 percent levy on alcoholic beverages temporarily suspended by the High Court, President Ian Khama has raised the stakes.

In his Independence message on September 30, President Khama, who is the paramount chief of Bamangwato, blamed alcohol for most of the social ills besieging the nation.

Perhaps an indication that his government would rather implement sterner measures to fight alcohol abuse than bend to the wishes of the alcohol industry, Khama became the first state president ever to present shocking statistics on the magnitude of alcohol abuse in his Independence Day message.

Quoting government statistics, Khama said a national household sample survey found that by the time, "our youth reach age 13, 18 percent were already drinkers, rising to 72 percent by the time they were 17. No responsible government, no government professing to be of, by and for the people, can afford to turn a blind eye to such circumstances".

Khama said: "The challenge of alcohol abuse has been with us for some time. We have long been aware of its role in promoting the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as its significant contribution to anti-social, risky and criminal behaviour, including child abuse, violence against women and deaths on our roads."

He said as a result of the challenges government has now adopted a holistic approach to the challenge of substance abuse that includes a national policy on alcohol, public education campaigns on the dangers of excessive consumption, and stiffer penalties for alcohol related offences, as well as the introduction of a 30% levy on all alcoholic beverages and reduction in the hours of sale.

"I, therefore, take this opportunity to once more appeal to liquor industry stakeholders, and the public at large to support the implementation of these measures for the promotion of dignified and healthy living in Botswana.

The 30 percent levy announced a month after the government had initially pegged it to 70 percent, has been met with resistance by the brewers, KBL and BBL in which government, through the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC), has a substantial stake. The two companies also fall under the global beer company SAB Miller. The implementation of the 30 percent levy, which was to take effect this month, was postponed by the High Court last week, pending the conclusion of the court case.

Khama's government has been releasing several directives aimed at reducing alcohol abuse. One of the directives last month bans the sale of alcoholic beverages at national stadiums, while

the most recent one - Directive Regulation 11 of the Liquor Act - prohibits the frying, barbequing and braaing of meat at areas near bars.

It also bans liquor outlets from selling anything cooked or cooking. Bars and nightclubs usually operate restaurants to cater for their clients.

Food vendors especially have over the years adopted the practice of trading outside busy nightclubs, selling fast food till the wee hours. A survey around some busy areas of Gaborone over the weekend however revealed that the practice is still going on smoothly, although some bars have since stopped serving food.

Meanwhile, the Office of the President (OP) has released a World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Report, which urges governments in Africa to come up with measures to fight alcohol abuse.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa's Report, Actions to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol, was considered and adopted at the 58th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, held in YaoundŽ, Cameroon, earlier last month.

The report recommends an increase in taxes to influence prices and reduce alcohol affordability one of a number of long-term actions to fight alcohol consumption.

The YaoundŽ meeting's call for price intervention is in keeping with the findings of WHO's most recent GLOBAL STATUS REPORT: ALCOHOL POLICY [2004: available online], which cited "Price and Taxation" as one of six recommended areas of intervention, further noting:

"There is good evidence that higher taxes and higher prices can reduce alcohol related harm. The tax rate may need to be weighed against any risk of illegal production, but many countries put tax stamps on bottle labels. The report recommends that traditional brews be included in alcohol tax systems to keep all consumption and harm down. In some countries the real price of alcohol has been falling, in part because the tax has not been increased in line with inflation. It was noted that industrialised countries are not using alcohol tax to its full potential as a public health measure. The report ranks tax high on the list of possible policy measures, as it is effective, cost-effective, easy to implement and can generate government revenue."

It also observes that: "Studies in Africa have shown increasing evidence linking alcohol consumption with high-risk sexual behaviour, infection with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and reduced adherence to anti-retroviral (ARV) and tuberculosis (TB) treatment.



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