Thursday, July 7, 2022

Police stations sell beer below market prices

With alcohol prices shooting through the bar and shebeen roof on account of the 40 percent tax, there is still one place where beer can be bought cheap ÔÇô the police station.

One of the goals that the current campaign against alcohol is framed around is reducing access to alcohol but the public auction increases such access in two important ways.

Alongside taxation, there are also periodic police raids on places and individuals who illegally trade in alcohol. The alcohol is seized, forfeited to the state and after the issuance of a court order, sold off by public auction at depressed prices.

Although Superintendent Bonnie Bareki of the Gaborone West Police Station says that they do a bit of comparative market analysis to ensure that the sale prices are not ‘low, low’, he hastens to add that seized alcohol auctions are not meant for profit-making.

Elaborating on that point, Superintendent Mokuedi Mphathi in Francistown says that basically the police are not in alcohol trade but merely hold such auctions ‘to dispose of exhibits’.

There is no reserve-price policy at such auctions but even if there was one, it would not work because the expectation and experience of bidders is that public auction prices are generally significantly lower. Nominating a reserve price too close or equal to that of retail outlets would most definitely drive bidders to the latter where alcohol is sold ready for consumption and not under voetstoots terms.

Mphathi says that as a matter of practice, seized-alcohol auctions at his station are held in the afternoon to ensure that the sale happens within hours that alcohol is legally traded. However, there is no policy as regards when such sale is to be carried out, which opens up the possibility of auctions occurring outside the prescribed trading hours. Basically, that amounts to increasing access to alcohol.

What Molepolole station commander, Superintendent Andrew Bosilong says points to the fact that senior police managers do not systematically monitor the whole process well enough to be able to determine whether the broad goals of seizing alcohol in the context of the current campaign yield the desired results: less access and therefore less abuse.

Not long ago, Molepolole police seized large amounts of alcohol that were triumphantly displayed for Btv cameras. The alcohol was subsequently auctioned off but when asked about the money made from selling this alcohol, Bosilong says he has no idea because he was not directly involved it its sale.

“Only the officer who conducted the auction would know,” he says.

As it happens, that officer was away on leave at press time. However, to be fair to police chiefs and for reasons stated, there is nothing they can do to ensure that seized alcohol is expensive.
Making the most money from the alcohol is also impaired by the fact that the police auctioneers ÔÇô as indeed all other government auctioneers – do not have requisite training. Auctioneering is a specialised skill and in some countries it is required by law that those who practice it must have undergone professional training at an approved auction school. South of our border, the South African College of Auctioneers, which was established in 1988, offers a diploma programme whose course content includes public speaking, developing an auction chant and bid calling, voice control and effectiveness, professional auctioneering ethics, appearing at ease before large audiences, overcoming stage fright and how to make a forceful opening speech. Students are also taught how to conduct auctions for different types of merchandise.

Bareki says that police auctioneers acquire their skills only through peer-provided in-service training.

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