Thursday, June 4, 2020

Alcohol prices double in underground lockdown trade

Officially, alcohol trade has been temporarily suspended as the government fights the spread of COVID-19. Unofficially though, alcohol trade still goes on in a super-secretive black market and some bar owners have been mentioned among the culprits.

A black market typically drives prices up and from what Sunday Standard learns, a beer quart (“khote”) that ordinarily costs an average of P20 now sells for P40.

“Basically prices have doubled,” says a source who confesses to having quaffed one or two during the lockdown at a shebeen that has since ran out of stock and closed down.

Shebeens have always done roaring alcohol trade outside what the law prescribes but it turns out that the biggest offenders during the lockdown are bar owners – some, not all. These bar owners moved their entire bar stock to their houses and have turned their houses into bars.

Says the source: “Bars are empty of alcohol as we speak because the alcohol has been moved to the houses of bar owners.”

With demand having surged and supply having diminished, prices have gone through the roof. The same bar owner who not long ago was selling a Black Label quart or standard Savanna bottle for P20, now sells it for double the price – and that is supposing that the stock has not run out.

However, not all bar owners who are still trading have moved their alcohol stock to their houses. Others have clandestinely offered a special service to bulk-buying customers from the bars themselves. One of those customers is a well-respected man who was seen leaving a Mogoditshane bar with lots and lots of Black Label beer cans.

Not all customers accept the new prices. In one part of Gaborone West SHHA, a customer balked at the unusually high prices and decided to get even with the seller by reporting him, not the high prices, but for the illicit trade to the police. By the time the police arrived, the alcohol had been sold out.

However well-intentioned it may have been, the ban still has loopholes that won’t be easy to close. Really determined imbibers can still buy an alcohol powder called Power which is still being sold in supermarkets. Likewise, law enforcement resources will not be adequate for purposes of policing farms where some people are to have gone to make merry during the lockdown. 

Under normal circumstances, the price-gouging would attract the attention of the Competition and Consumer Protection Authority. However, the Authority doesn’t regulate black-market trade. 

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