Wednesday, June 23, 2021

UDC wants alcoholics to have a share of Alcohol Levy money

President Ian Khama doesn’t talk much about the Alcohol Levy Fund nowadays but the last time he did, he shared figures that two opposition MPs are likely to use against him to argue their case for redirection money from that Fund.

“As at September 2015, a cumulative total of P1,867,586,562 has been collected from the alcohol levy. A 2012 evaluation of the impact of our alcohol reduction campaign interventions indicated that there was a reduction in alcohol consumption from 8 litres per capita to 7 litres,” Khama said in his 2015 state-of-the-nation address.

Two Umbrella for Democratic Change MPs, Dr. Phenyo Butale of Gaborone Central and Shawn Ntlhaile of Jwaneng-Mabutsane, are trying to get the government to spend that money on a group that not only need it most but one that the money actually comes from ÔÇô alcohol addicts. Butale wants the government to utilise the money from the Fund “to establish at least two rehabilitation centres in Gaborone and another major centre to deal with the escalating scourge of drug abuse in the country as a matter of urgency.” Likewise, Ntlhaile wants the government “to setup rehabilitation centres across the country to address alcohol abuse, drug disorders and related social ills.” 

On becoming president in 2008, Khama introduced an alcohol tax that was initially set at 30 percent but has now risen to 55 percent. In some parts of the world, alcoholism is treated as a public health issue. On the other hand, the president sees it as a sign of indiscipline and takes an approach so punitive that people who abuse alcohol don’t benefit from the money they pay into the Alcohol Levy Fund. The position of the two MPs on this particular aspect is unknown but they obviously prefer an approach that eliminates the source of the problem.

Khama’s war against alcohol also manifests itself in the form of the Liquor Act which has a provision that limits hours of trading for places that sell alcohol. Fewer trading hours should supposedly reduce the consumption of alcohol. As the levy, this approach doesn’t deal with the root cause of alcoholism which a rehabilitation centre would do.

The tragedy is that while the levy was introduced to fight alcohol abuse, the government has now created a situation in which it is in its own financial interest for people to abuse alcohol. The Alcohol Levy Fund has provided budgetary support for a host of government programmes, including the Botswana Youth Games in 2014. 

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