Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Future of 20 000 jobs at stake as Gov’t moves ahead with anti-tobacco law

British American Tobacco Botswana has said they would welcome a legislation that seeks to regulate the tobacco industry in Botswana.

But that law, according to Mdu Lokotfwako has to be a product of genuine consultation with all the relevant stakeholders.

He said so far all their efforts as the industry to engage with Botswana Government have been spurned.

Lokotfwako is Head of Legal and External Affairs at BAT.

He was speaking as parliament moves ahead full speed at the behest of anti-tobacco network to pass tobacco legislation that has been roundly condemned by |Business Botswana, the tobacco industry and the opposition alike.

In an interview with Sunday Standard he also said on account of the proposed law, small traders and vendors stand to lose out big because they are by far the biggest traders of tobacco in Botswana.

British American Tobacco Botswana controls close to 93 percent of the tobacco market share in the country.

“Before we go any further, I think its important that we state that as British American Tobacco Botswana, we are not opposed to regulation for the tobacco industry. In fact, we support it! We believe that the regulation of our industry (or any for that matter) should be balanced, fair, implementable and evidence based with robust consultations across the value chain – this, we believe, can only be done through an independent and impartial Regulatory Impact Assessment Study (RIA),” Lokotfwako.

Without mincing his words, he is of the view that the Bill currently being discussed in parliament will negatively affect British American Tobacco Botswana.

“The impact on BAT Botswana is simply loss of business to unregulated counterfeits and illicit trade in cigarettes”.  He says as a matter of fact.

He said BAT has done everything possible to try and engage, but there have been no takers.

“BAT Botswana has tried to engage on this issue for year now. BAT Botswana has never been consulted on this proposed Bill. We even attempted to seek audience with the Ministry of Health which was flatly declined. We even went to the extend of making comments/submission on this proposed Bill when it was published in March, and our recommendation were disregarded.”

If true, this will be unprecedented in Botswana.

Recently the Head of Policy at Business Botswana Dichaba Molobe also told the Sunday Standard that the law had been hijacked by anti-tobacco lobby.

He blamed Botswana Government for turning its back on a well-established tradition of consulting with business when a law that affected business was brought before parliament.

Molobe said tobacco was much more than just a health issue; it was a commercial and also a national security issue, he said.

“We even tried to reach out to the Ministry of Trade through Business Botswana as our “line Ministry” and they referred us back to the Ministry of Health. In short, we have not had input,” says Lokotfwako of BAT.

Lokotfwako is adamant that the law as currently presented before parliament stands to harm the informal sector the most.

These are ordinary men and women selling cigarettes over small tables across the streets and close to the roads.

“BAT Botswana is a market leader and we operate in the country together with other international and regional cigarettes manufacturers. It is important to note that 85% of BAT Botswana’s business is the informal trade. An average of 71.3% of sales revenue for hawkers is generated by cigarette sales alone. Lastly, it is important to note that informal traders are estimated to be at least 20 000 across the country (this is based on a research done recently by Business Botswana) – these hawkers and other traders support in excess of 100 000 people from the proceeds of their business,” he says.

BAT Botswana is most worried by the future of legal tobacco industry in Botswana if the law goes ahead as it looks ever more likely.

Lokotfwako says elsewhere a similar law as this one being passed by Botswana simply killed the lawful industry.

“Based on our international experience, this proposed Bill will simply disseminate the legal industry in Botswana. That is how plainly we can put it. It is important to note that this proposed law doesn’t only punish legitimate players, it has a huge impact on government revenues, livelihoods and jobs. This law is bad precedence for other industries – its not just about the tobacco industry,” he said.

But what has been the difficult thing for BAT Botswana in its relations with Botswana government as the two tried to formulate this law?

“As indicated, we support balanced, fair, implementable and evidence-based regulations for tobacco control. We have simply not been granted access or an opportunity to engage – as for why, we would also like to find out from the Ministry of Health. We are a stakeholder with regards to this proposed Bill, we are of the view that we also deserve a chance to be heard.”

Lokotfwako says BAT fears for the 20 000 jobs that will disappear as the law comes into effect. These are mainly in the informal sector.

That is not the only adverse effect.

There will also be the rise in unregulated counterfeits and illicit trade of cigarettes.

Clearly disheartened he closes by pointing out that “we are a legal company, selling a legal product.”

It is an ominous statement.


Read this week's paper