FRANCISTOWN: The Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) has distanced itself from a document detailing the new proposed liquor hours.
“We do not know the origins of the document. I have consulted with the licensing department and they have also indicated that they are not aware of the document,” said Kaelo Kaelo, the spokesperson of the ministry.
Even government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsay who said that he is due back in the country next week said that he is not aware of the document that has been circulating widely on social media.
The document has however triggered excitement amongst some stakeholders who are of the view that the government is closer to opening the booze gates.
Under former president, Ian Khama the government had reduced the liquor trading hours and imposed a levy on alcohol in a bid to ‘fight alcohol abuse’.
After the document was publicised in the social media on Wednesday this week, it was met with a response of strong anticipation that the government will review its current position on alcohol trading that has attracted much controversy.
During a Kgotla meeting in Rakops recently, President Mokgweetsi Masisi also hinted that his government was in the process of reviewing its controversial position on alcohol. This has also stimulated excitement amongst those who have been critical of the government’s current stringent regulations on alcohol trading.
Masisi said that he would soon be dispatching senior government officials to go on a countrywide tour to consult on how the country’s alcohol policy can be revamped to tally with the interests of all Batswana.
Since taking over as President, Masisi has made indications that he intends to reverse some of the initiatives introduced by his predecessor, which are perceived to be not of public interest.
During his reign Khama, who played a pivotal role in the introduction of the controversial liquor Act, has always maintained a stiff upper-lip despite relentless efforts meant to persuade him review the law.
Khama has often maintained that he would not back down as he was fighting what he called rampant alcohol abuse in the country. The stand was criticised by the majority of alcohol traders, opposition parties and even some ruling party activists arguing that there was no tangible proof that the liquor Act and alcohol levy will deter people from abusing alcohol.
Instead of coming with laws stifling business, Khama’s detractors felt government should instead channel its energy on educating the public about responsible drinking and expunge its alcohol policies.
“We strongly welcome the government’s position that the liquor Act will be reviewed. Our position against the current government position on alcohol is well known,” said the Umbrella for Democratic Change spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa this week.
But Mohwasa said before a review of the liquor Act, and the overall government position is done “we want an audit of how the funds from levy (alcohol levy) has been used. The government has to account for the funds. There is evidence that all funds sourced from levies are prone to abuse, which is why we want accountability”.
Additionally, he said, “we want the consultation process
Mohwasa said that in the past the government consulted on various key issues of interest, but did not take decisions based on the interest of the people.
Botswana Music Union President (BOMU) president, Pagson Ntsie said that they would be very excited if the liquor Act and general policy on alcohol were reviewed as promised by Masisi.
“The entertainment industry has been on a decline since the introduction of the current liquor Act. If at all the government is planning to increase liquor trading hours, times for festivals and scrap the alcohol levy, this would be a very welcome development. Instead of having many restrictions, I think we should enhance public education with the aim of encouraging responsible drinking,” he said.
Ntsie noted that the economic effects of the current policy “are more than the social effects. People have lost jobs as a result of the policy. Some people have even resorted to drugs as an alternative.” The entertainment and alcohol industry are inter-dependable.
Lillian Griesmier who owns various bars around Francistown also reacted to indications that the government’s intensions to change the liquor Act and its overall position on alcohol.
“Bar owners have not been making profit at all. The liquor Act and levy were implemented without proper consultation. It is important for all the stakeholders to sit down and reach a consensus as to how the alcohol policy or Act will look like. It should benefit both parties,” said Griesmier.
She added: “There is no evidence that the Act has deterred alcohol consumption. We have always maintained that encouraging responsible drinking is the better alternative. We had to shed jobs. Many jobs were lost directly or indirectly as a result of the country’s revised position on alcohol”.
Griesmier concurred with Ntsie that the last decade has seen an influx of drugs, which are used as an alternative to alcohol, which was becoming increasingly expensive.
Churches are amongst the bodies that supported Khama’s position on alcohol. There was no readily available comment from the Botswana Council of Churches at the time of going to press.
Should Masisi move swiftly and review the alcohol levy, it will be good news to Kalahari Breweries Limited (KBL). The company’s fortunes have been dwindling since the Khama-led government introduced the much maligned liquor Act and alcohol levy.
In 2015, the company closed its opaque beer wing in Palapye, a development that left 57 employees without jobs.
KBL said they closed the Palapye operations due to low sales, reportedly perpetuated by the introduction of the levy, reduction of trading hours and banning of selling alcohol in homes.
Prior to the retrenchments in Palapye the company laid off 88 employees following a decision to close down its opaque drinks plant in Lobatse.
In all occasions, the company said that the developments were brought about by an untenable trading environment that has been characterised by unfavourable alcohol policies.