Monday, September 21, 2020

Government should honestly clarify official position on Alcohol Levy

The last time we heard of it, the official position of Government regarding the Alcohol Levy was that there will be a nationwide consultation to determine whether to keep it, reduce it or anything.

The ball was on the public court, so said the Government.

This is a similar position as adopted towards Hunting Ban.

And we took them at their word.

Many of us were thus taken aback when the Minister of Finance issued what amounted to a legal instrument to make amendments to the levy.

The legal instrument in the Government Gazette was complex legal jargon that left many ordinary people none the wiser.

More crucially there was no addendum to say why that legal instrument had been issued.

Many ordinary people reached a conclusion that the Alcohol Levy had been reduced.

It turned out that they were wrong, and that their Government had made them look foolish.

A few days down the line, the country’s leading brewer, KBL released a public statement to say they would not be reducing alcohol prices.

The nation was even more perplexed.

Exactly what was happening? Are we going back to the days of taking the public as toys? The same days that we had come to believe were past us?

This is not what President Mokgweetsi Masisi has promised.

The current administration should not risk its goodwill by resorting to unexplained technicalities.

Our position on the Alcohol Levy has not changed for the over 10 years that it has been in existence.

We have maintained consistently that the levy was a thoughtless intervention.

That remains our position to this day. And in more ways than one, we have with time been vindicated.

Our position against the levy was science based.

We argued at the time that making alcohol artificially more expensive would not reduce consumption.

We said that people who would no longer afford alcohol would simply migrate to other forms of drugs.

Ten years later Botswana is under a jackboot of hard drugs.

Even primary school going kids are taking drugs like cocaine and heroin.

This is a legacy of the Alcohol Levy that its architects should be ashamed of.

Paradoxically, instead of biting the bullet to scrap the levy, the new administration is resorting to dog whistles, semantics and technicalities.

Our position against the levy has now been more emboldened by governance failures that have surrounded it.

Not only has the levy brought the country’s alcohol industry on its knees, it has led to thousands of workers being laid off.

Even then, that is only half the story.

The levy was touted as a way to raise money for rehabilitation centres.

Not a single such centre has been built.

Instead millions from it remain unaccounted for.

We urge the Government be more transparent on the levy, especially with regard to the recent instruments recently published by the minister of Finance in the Government Gazette.

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