Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Plastic levy deception

Botswana consumers who have been paying for shopping plastic bags at local retailers under the pretext of “Plastic levy” recently received a shock of their shopping lives. It has since emerged that the government has never put in place any sort of levy or tax relating to the purchase of flat plastic bags.

While circumstances surrounding the sale of shopping plastic bags remain unclear, the government has since taken a decision to totally ban them from the local market.

Actually, if wishes were horses for Tshekedi Khama ÔÇô the minister responsible for Environment in Botswana, he would ban the plastic bags right away.

“The process has started and my ministry has embarked on informing Batswana and other stakeholders to prepare and get ready for the ban as well as putting in place alternatives for the plastic carrier bags,” said Khama at a recent press conference.

Whilst Khama is looking forward the implementation of the plastic carrier bags, most leading consumer retailers in Botswana feel hard done by what they deem lack of consultation.

Sunday Standard has been informed that the ban comes after a series of protracted meetings between retailers, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism (MENRCT) and Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry that ended in stalemate.

“To be honest, the decision to ban plastic bags in April came as a surprise because we were still in negotiations with the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry,” said one of the executives in Botswana’s multibillion pula consumer retail industry.

The executive who chose to remain anonymous was concerned about the impact the ban will have on their bottom line. “This is going to affect us negatively because April is just around the corner. We carry a lot of plastics in stock, what are we supposed to do with it?” said the concerned executive.

“It’s not only about the cost of our plastic inventory, but the issue runs deeper than that. We will have to think of alternative carrier bags for our customers, but the alternatives that we looked at like the brown paper bags are costly for the customer. We might also see a drop in the average food basket. Why will a customer buy more stuff when they have to pay more for extra carrier bags?” asked the executive.

The executive’s sentiments were echoed also by Vidya Sanooj, Finance Controller (Projects and Reports) at Choppies, who confirmed that they carry stock of big quantities of plastic. She said due to the envisaged ban, they expect disruptions in the business. Sannoj feels that they decision should have been more consultative and not abrupt.

“They should have first approved alternates and got retailers to introduce to the market before the ban,” she said. “Moreover, there will be a serious financial burden on the consumer and it should have been properly communicated to the consumer community well in advance.”

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on the country’s plastic producers that employs hundreds of people. “It depends on which side the coin falls on, as in it can go both ways. The worst thing to happen will be retrenchments and some of these companies shutting down. Alternatively this could lead to new untapped opportunities as some companies innovate to offer retailers and customers environment friendly alternative carrier bags. But of course the time frame and costs remain a huge factor, therefore I’d say things will not look good in the short term,” explained Sekai Botlhale, an economist based in the capital Gaborone.


While the government have admittedly failed to implement what was to be a plastic levy, Tshekedi’s ministry has since taken a decision t implement a ban on the use of plastic carrier bags. SUNDAY STANDARD’S VICTOR BAATWENG picks a few comments from our online readers regarding the imminent ban.

Maruping Kess – Food is already expensive and Government gave retailers an opportunity to maximise profits through the ‘Plastic Levy’.

Banning plastics is long overdue, but has the government given the Plastic making companies a chance to acquire paper bag making machineries? A sudden ban of plastics means people will lose jobs, the country is already crippled by unemployment. 

We can only hope this is not another deliberate move to give “friends” a chance to venture into business at the expense of a lay Motswana. One can be forgiven to conclude big guys have already positioned themselves for the paper bag industry looming.

Kerapetse Kopelo – Ban plastic bags, they pollute the environment in many aspects. 
They’re always improperly disposed and end up being consumed by our livestock. 
Plastic cover on the soil causes both water logging and poor aeration. Somebody should venture in manufacturing paper and cloth or biodegradable shopping bags. 
Governments should also think of plastic food containers, how can they be dealt with. Most of the processed food we buy are packaged in plastics and they are equally poisonous to the environment as plastic shopping bags.

Duncan Mpolokang – Government must address the issue of plastic levy! They should just go back to retailers and collect that money we need it is our money. People are suffering could be helped by these monies and someone is just eating money that doesn’t belong to him or her. Just like tax let them go back and collect. I believe it was agreed with retailers that that’s government’s money so they should bring it back.

Olebogeng Modise – I support the ban mainly because of the rampant pollution caused by plastic and the attitude of Batswana towards littering. Plastic is not bio-degradable and you find trees, riversides and landfills decorated with these plastics. Sure some jobs may be lost, but you will note that this ban applies to plastic bags only (I assume) so they still have time to diversify.

Oteng Lekgowe – I support the ban.
The levy hasn’t been in place but the retailers cannot be accused of any wrongdoing as they are selling the plastic bags just like any other commodity. They are simply recovering their costs (since they purchase from manufacturers) and to a less extent also making a bit of profit.

Shabra Samboma – My understanding was that there is plastic levy but government is failing to come with means of collecting it. I think doing away with it is just to mitigate failure to collect the levy. I mean why continue letting retailers take all the money even your share, the best thing is to just stop plastic so that it’s a loose loose situation.

Agan Raph – Do they have an alternative in place? And what are they solving by banning plastic? Or someone just woke up and saw on TV other means of packaging and tabled a motion to ban plastic. Tell them to collect the money from retailers and stop coming up with silly ideas. We want money nothing else. Why not ban imported vehicles and come up with a car manufacturing industry and in a way relief the roads of our cities from traffic and talk to car dealers to give cars by higher purchase. Why not come up with industries that can recycle plastic and tyres and make other products like rubber mats? I am sure plastic recycling will create more employment rather than banning plastics and creating unemployment. Recycle the following; Plastic, tyres, get rid of Mogoditshane and invest in car manufacturing. They should call me i will tell them collect the levy, recycle plastic into by products, recycle tyres, and manufacture cars and relief our roads from congestion by banning imports.

Kebaotletse Kebaotletse – Banning plastic bags is a great idea to consider looking at the fact that those who buy them or the customers they just threw it away making the environment unfit to live in. Look at what the capital city Gaborone looks like it’s like we are in the third world country. Why can’t we as a country copy from other developing countries that uses paper bags that can easily get decomposed. UK has done it, France and other African countries. Let’s keep our country safe and clean to fight the greenhouse gas and fight climate change.

Gaone Kedikilwe ÔÇô No let’s collect the money from retailers first. We are owed big time.

Eliyoth Dukes – I don’t support the idea of banning plastics, the issue is not about being unfriendly to environment but the fact that the government failed for years to collect levy. Their failure now is hitting hard on plastic manufacturing industries and lives of Batswana. Brown bags are expensive, how many are going to afford them, tell me now about the butcheries, how are they going to package and sell their meat? There are 3 plastic manufacturing companies and have employed thousands of Batswana, what will happen with their lives?

BAATWENG further spoke to Choppies’s Finance Director Sanooj Pullarote

Is Choppies Enterprises aware of any plastic bags levy that might have been implemented by the government in the past years?

The plastic Levy has to be on manufacturing and not on retailers.

Does Choppies sell plastic carrier bags as part of its inventory or they are sold on behalf of the government as part of a plastic levy?

Choppies sell plastic bags as inventory.

Kindly make a comment on a recent decision by the government to ban the use of plastic in the future.

The decision is most welcome but the implementation should have been done in a professional manner, putting more thoughtful and considerate process and mechanisms behind it.


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