Wednesday, March 22, 2023

President Khama and the alcohol industry have to continue talking

Government has acceded to calls by various quarters to review the decision as announced by President Ian Khama a few months back that he planned to introduce a 70% alcohol levy on all alcoholic beverages.
Instead of a 70% levy, government has announced a 30% levy.

While the alcohol industry will no doubt be still worried as this will eat into their bottom lines, we think the impact would be much less compared to the outrageous 70% that the President talked about when this topic first hit the public domain.

We welcome the decision by government to go back on its earlier announcement, not least because the announcement had been made by the State President who is, by all accounts, the Head of State and Government.

The important thing is that there is no winner or loser in this whole thing.
As a nation we are in it together.
More importantly, there is no reason for government to feel humiliated or defeated.

Instead, Botswana Government should be proud of its flexibility and responsiveness ÔÇô the two pillars of a meaningful democracy.

Only dictators have no regard for alternative views, including those coming from opposition groups.
As Sunday Standard, it remains our fervent hope that the flexibility on the part of President Ian Khama as shown by his readiness to make concessions and compromises will go a long way to allay public fears about the President’s democratic credentials.
This is especially so given the President’s well known averse disposition to alcohol.

Of course those who have always doubted Khama’s democratic credentials will argue that a man cannot be meaningfully judged on just one incident.
We concede to those holding such a view.
Although the 70% levy as announced by the President proved very unpopular, we all know that given the structure of our governance institutions, President Khama could easily have disregarded the opposing lobby and went ahead anyway to implement his decision.
As it is he did not.

Instead he chose to listen to the alternative viewpoints going as far as to give the alcohol industry under the auspices of BOCCIM, which is the umbrella amalgam of private industry in Botswana, an opportunity to present his government with alternative proposals.
That is commendable indeed.
In no way should this be viewed as a sign of weakness on the part of government, least of all on the part of the President himself.

The world over, it is a tradition among democratic governments to always give alternative views a chance.
We hope that, going forward, this will be a lesson to all those involved.
We have always held that some very grave mistakes occurred in the way the issue was handled.

On that score no one is absolved.
The alcohol industry, led by Kgalagadi Breweries, took too long to present to government the outcome of their processes started three years ago to enact an alcohol policy.

With nothing on the table, the government, in the form of President Ian Khama, took it upon themselves to come up with something in the form of a 70% levy.

Of course, we have always maintained that the government suggestions were outrageous. But then what alternative was there?

We cannot overemphasise the simple fact that the Botswana government has a mandate to run this country.
That mandate implicitly covers coming up with interventions to protect citizens against the harmful effects of alcohol.

It also extends to protecting citizens that do not drink alcohol, against excesses meted on them by those who choose to drink alcohol.
It, therefore, is entirely within the mandate of government to come up with whatever interventions they may think of as long as such interventions are within the legal framework that Botswana subscribes to a constitutional democracy.

In this instance we want to point an accusing finger at the alcohol industry for having taken so long without alerting the government of the positive, win-win benefits that would have accrued from the enactment of a National Alcohol Policy.

Botswana lags behind when it comes to a National Alcohol Policy.
Even little countries like Lesotho and Swaziland that we like to look down upon as our whipping boys are far in that regard.

As the President said two weeks ago when he addressed a BOCCIM meeting in Francistown, we hope that the private sector will henceforth be proactive rather than retroactive.

Having said that, we hope in future the government, especially the President, will be careful not to make unilateral decisions that have the potential to instill uncertainty among investors.

We have seen how, since the President’s announcement, the publicly-listed stock of Sechaba Holdings that houses Kgalagadi Breweries and Botswana Breweries shed a lot of value on the fears that, going forward, the companies had no future in Botswana.


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