Former President Ian Khama’s decision to introduce Alcohol Levy and liquor regulations pushed the sale of liquor underground and drove scores of Batswana into poverty and drugs a study by Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) has revealed.
The study which was commissioned by the Ministry of Health revealed that alcohol consumption and drug abuse among Batswana shot up and the alcohol black market flourished after Khama introduced the levy.
The report states that: “In terms of total consumption, the results show that there has been a general increase in consumption of all alcohol beverages despite the introduction of the levy and other campaigns to reduce excessive alcohol consumption.”
The report also found that “the shares of households with drinkers have increased over time both (at) national level. However, the shares are generally comparable across quintiles. This may suggest that the alcohol levy did not affect the decision of members to drink or reduce the numbers of households with at least one member drinking.”
According to the report“…in rural areas the effect has been negative since expenditure has been shifted from food to compensate for the increase in alcohol prices due to the levy and this has negatively impacted on the livelihoods of members of such households especially children and the elderly.”
It says the views of alcohol businesses (producers, distributors and retail outlets) are that the campaigns against alcohol by a general increase in the total amount of alcohol consumed, although per capita consumption of absolute alcohol has decreased.
The report states that the major concerns by industry players was that the Alcohol Fund has not been used for its original purpose such as building of rehabilitation centres to help those already addicted.
It further states that the use of the levy alone to curb excessive alcohol consumption cannot be an effective policy option.
The results from the surveys of drinkers and alcohol and alcohol businesses and in-depth interviews indicate that there is a general feeling that alcohol consumption has not been reduced significantly despite a number of measures put forward to reduce it.
Instead, the report says, people have switched to low cost traditional brews, while others have resorted to drugs.
“The perceptions of the respondents from focus group discussions and in-depth interviews are that the alcohol levy, reduction in trading hours has not been effective. Some of the interventions such as reduction in trading hours have been rendered ineffective because people have resorted to buying beer in bulk, mainly at bottle stores where it is relatively cheap, to later drink at bars outside stipulated trading hours or at their homes,” the report states.
While bars generally obey the regulations on trading hours, some bar owners were reported to have opened shebeens which are used as extension of the bar to sell alcohol beyond the stipulated trading hours. Some bars however, are opened illegally to friends, relatives and local customers to buy outside stipulated hours of business hours.
The report further notes that “the incidence of underage and youth drinking is on the rise and the main reasons are; ease of access to alcohol, lack of recreational facilities and high youth unemployment rates leading to idleness.”
The reduction in trading hours has been blamed for the mushrooming of illegal shebeens, which did not observe the regulations on trading hours. These shebeens are mostly prevalent in rural areas and low income areas. The shebeens sell home brews which are relatively cheap as the residents can not afford the relatively expensive beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Khama enforced rigid shorter trading hours for liquor outlets and nightclubs and later imposed a 55 percent tax on alcohol, commonly known as the alcohol levy.
Touching on the effect of introducing the levy on business, the report observes that “There has been a fall in production of malt beer since the introduction of the levy…On the other hand; imports of major alcoholic beverages have increased, implying that the local products are being substituted by imported products.”