Thursday, June 24, 2021

Faced with life-threatening measures, Alcohol Industry now weighing options

The alcohol industry is in a fighting mood and seems poised to take the fight back to government if that is what it will take to get alcohol outlets reopened.

A government decision announced late last week to continue for at least a month with the curfew and a full alcohol ban as a way of arresting the runaway Covid-19 wave surge has left the alcohol industry with no choice but to consider some of the extreme options available to them.

One such option, Sunday Standard has learnt is to approach the courts for a relief.

A similar decision to approach the courts by alcohol industry was tried recently in South Africa but achieved little success.

An industry insider said they are aware of the powers given government under the State of Emergency, but added that they are convinced that the Covid-19 Task Force has misled the Head of State.

Both Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) which controls around 90 percent of Botswana alcohol market share and also the Botswana Alcohol Industry Association (BAIA) has distanced themselves from the fast-moving preparations for a legal encounter with Botswana Government on the matter.

The strategy, said a source familiar to events is to make a public statement that alcohol is a legitimate industry, that not only pays tax but is a source of livelihood for multitudes.

There is a general discontent that the industry is being singled out for unfair targeting.

This is impoverishing people and also creating an impression that those engaged in alcohol trade are as irresponsible as drug peddlers.

“The churches, the malls and the retailers are well known to be spreaders. But they are all allowed to operate under strict protocols. Why can’t we also be allowed to trade under such strictly determined rules like serving to drink at home only,” said one bar owner.

This is also repeated by Mothusi Molokomme who added that if the current situation persists many alcohol traders will have nothing left to reopen beyond the end of March.

“Beyond March we shall have nothing to salvage,” said Molokomme.

But how true is it that preparations to go to court are moving fast and are an advanced stage?

“As the industry consolidated, there are no such efforts. At individual level, may be. But we are of the view that it wouldn’t work. We are in negotiations with government. There are no guarantees that it will work. But diplomacy remains our first choice,” said Molokomme.

The Head of Public Affairs at KBL, Masegonyana Madisa also side-stepped the issue of a looming legal battle preferring to instead talk about ongoing engagements with Botswana government.

Madisa reiterated what Molokomme said that no business can exist for long without trading.

For Madisa, mid-March is the cut-off date for re-opening, beyond which disaster awaits the industry.

“We hope that the ban can be lifted by mid-month to avoid an irreversible damage,” said Madisa.

He said together with BAIA as KBL they recently engaged government through the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry to find a sustainable solution that can save lives and the jobs related to the extensive value chain made by the industry; transporters, suppliers, customers, and their dependents.

“It is common knowledge that no business can survive a prolonged period of no revenue and uncertainty about the future and we implore government to take this into consideration,” said Madisa.

Molokomme is of the view that it is wrong for government to exclusively listen to the anti-alcohol lobby on issues pertaining to alcohol.

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