There is every possibility that the ministry of trade and industry and the Liquor Trade Association (LTA) could soon be battling at the High Court over the liquor regulations that the government is introducing.
LTA’s spokesperson, John Kula, says that they are considering three options. The first is to present their case to President Ian Khama.
“Hopefully, he will appreciate our view point,” Kula says.
The second option is to refer the issue back to MPs, a majority of whom previously supported a parliamentary motion that the regulations be put on hold to enable further consultations with members of the public. The government acquiesced and the minister undertook a nationwide consultative process. On the whole LTS is not happy with the manner in which the consultation was undertaken.
“The process was not conducted in good faith because it was politicised. An impression was created that somehow we condone alcohol abuse when that is not the case. All we did was invest in liquor trade. In no way does that indicate that we are supporting alcohol abuse,” Kula says.
In the past, Kula has stated that the kgotla cannot be used as a consultation forum.
“The kgotla is a good place to consult a certain group of people – not everyone. It certainly is not a forum for intellectual debate. In most cases, the meetings are held at a time when people who are most affected by this issue would be at work. Kgotla meetings observe unfair protocol: basically, the president puts his views across which are then endorsed by speakers from the floor. In this particular case, he goes to the kgotla to enumerate all the harmful effects of alcohol abuse and speakers from the floor give similar accounts of how alcohol kills their children. You cannot speak freely at the kgotla because there is a certain line that you are supposed to toe and the president has the latitude of deciding which questions he doesn’t want to answer,” he said.
The government case is that the country’s high rate of alcohol consumption has brought about many social ills and that it is time something was done about the problem. In his last state-of-the-nation, former president Festus Mogae lamented about cases of promising young people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol, families that have to endure the daily agony of poverty and abuse because they are headed by alcoholics, wives who have been abused and even killed by drunk husbands, lives lost through drunken driving and HIV/AIDS infections that could have been avoided.
If MPs cannot be of help, Kula says that there would move to the last option ÔÇô the High Court. Their case would be that they are being discriminated against as an investor group.
“If the government is concerned about the socials ills that result from alcohol abuse as it says, it should address the problem holistically rather than discriminate against one group. If we should attack alcohol, let’s attack it everywhere,” he says.
Hotels and lodges have been exempted from the regulations and LTA sees that as discrimination. The other redress that LTA would seek at the High Court is compensation from the government for having disrupted their business operations.
At press time (Friday evening), the LTA committee had met earlier in the day and was planning to release a press statement tomorrow ÔÇô Monday. The committee was given a greenlight by its members last year to seek judicial redress in the event that the situation became untenable. Kula says that for reason, there would be no reason for the committee to call a general meeting to approve legal action.
At this stage no firm decision has been taken but on Friday the committee consulted a lawyer.
There seems to be confusion about whether the regulations have come into force. Last week the Commissioner of the Botswana Police Service, Thebeyame Tsimako, was quoted in the press as saying that the regulations were implemented on April 1. Kula’s own understanding is that they have not as traders hold licences that were issued under the previous liquor law. That notwithstanding traders are preparing for when the regulations would be enforced. Kula estimates that he would have to retrench 26 of his 36-strong workforce.
An interesting dimension to the issue came up when Moroka visited Old Naledi in Gaborone during the consultation process. During the question-answer time, residents raised concern that MPs’ own bar at the National Assembly (euphemistically referred to as the ‘Members’ Lounge’) was not going to be affected by proposed regulations. One speaker, a well-known opposition party activist in the area, called for the closure of the Lounge on grounds that MPs would not be able to properly legislate if they were under the influence of alcohol. Another more lenient speaker said that if the Lounge could not be closed for whatever reason, then MPs should at least be “limited to two beers only” a day.