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Extend the wage subsidy, grant us rent relief, bar owners plead

LESEDI MKHUTSHWA
Empty watering holes: Parts of Francistown have been abandoned after the booze ban PIC: KEOAGILE BONANG
FRANCISTOWN: Local bar owners say government should continue paying wage subsidy for their sector and also provide them with rent relief, as their industry suffers from the third booze ban since the onset of COVID-19 in Botswana.

Bars were closed about two weeks ago due to a new alcohol ban, and the sector is struggling as revenues have dried up, while overheads such as wages and rentals mount.

Brown Sport Bar owner, Nametso Lillian Griesmeir called on government to assist with proportional rent relief and also continue with the provision of wage subsidy to their employees.

She says the restriction on sale of alcohol has affected the livelihoods of her 35 employees who are spread across the four bars she owns in the city.

“Last month I managed to pay my employees but I am unable to do the same this month because the business is closed. Therefore, there is a need for government to bring back the wage subsidy through BURS which ended in June in order to address the matter.”

Griesmeir, who is also the area councillor for Central Ward here, equally pleaded with the government to come up with a relief fund initiative, which could help the alcohol industry during the pandemic.

“This matter is so devastating because our industry is the one mainly affected by COVID-19.

“To make the matters worse, before the pandemic I took a loan to purchase a bar in Area L and there is a high possibility that they will repossess it if I fail to pay,” says Griesmier.

Griesmier also owns an Area L Bed and Breakfast guesthouse, which is in another sector heavily affected by the COVID-19 responses initiated by government.

The hotel and hospitality sector has been under pressure since the travel ban in March, with business drying up and job sustainability made near impossible.

“Since the wage subsidy ended, I have had to pay my guesthouse employees from my pocket so that they can sustain their livelihoods,” says Griesmier.

“If government does not implement a recovery plan for the bar and hotel industry, a number of businesses will collapse over the next months and take jobs with them.”

Lizards Entertainment nightclub manager, Michael Njunja  reveals the establishment

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remained closed even after the national lockdown ended in May.

“The new liquor trading hours in compliance with COVID-19  health protocols were not favourable to our business and we decided to remain closed after the national lockdown.

“We did not open because we wanted to eliminate the risk of running the business at a loss.”

He continues: “We have been making sure that all of our employees are paid salaries for the past four months as part of our social contract. Some of them have been with us for over 10 years and thus, we found it appropriate to assist them so that they could buy food stuffs, pay rentals and others.”

Njunja pleaded with government to establish loans or grants that could boost the liquor industry, adding his voice to others who say government should consider bringing the wage subsidy back for bar staff and others in the industry. Maikutlo Ruthenburg, who owns Chicks Tavern at Area W, shares the same sentiments with Griesmier and Njunja adding that her family is living on the brink as the revenues from the business have dried up.

“The business supports my family and without it we are nothing. Government should assist us or else we will die of hunger. We also have utility and health bills to pay and without cash everything is just messed up.”

She pleaded with authorities to clamp down on liquor wholesalers and distributors selling alcohol directly to individuals, saying their trade should be limited to bars, as direct sales eat away from bars’ revenue.

“When government lifts the alcohol ban, it should only be ideal for liquor wholesalers and distributors to only sell to licensed bars and liquor restaurants only, so that we can also benefit,” argues Ruthenburg.

The complaint about direct sales underlines the position the liquor trade is in. The pie is getting smaller, not because of demand, but frequent suspensions and players around the table are scrambling for a piece.



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