Alcohol pays price for Govt shortcomings in Covid-19 response

by | Jul 12, 2021 | Article, Covid-19

The South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA) and National Liquor Traders (NLT) are disappointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to extend the current ban of alcohol sales by another two weeks.

The decision seems to confirm media reports that the government had intended to ban alcohol sales for 21 days, but opted to announce a 14-day ban to avoid criticism from business and the general public.

SALBA intends to seek clarity from Parliament to establish whether President Ramaphosa deliberately mislead the public by announcing a shorter alcohol ban, when the recommendation or decision was always to make it longer.

National Liquor Traders Convener Lucky Ntimane called for the President to avail himself to engage in dialogue with the industry. “There is an apparent misalignment between the statements made by the President that consultations are taking place with all affected sectors, when in fact it is a monologue, with industry making numerous proposals and sharing research while Government keeps its cards close to its chest. At no stage during the past 15 months has government shared the science on which they have based their decisions, despite repeated requests to do so,” said Ntimane.

SALBA Chairperson Sibani Mngadi said the alcohol industry, restaurants, taverns and tourism sectors are carrying the heaviest burden of the inadequate government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which relied primarily on the bans of alcohol sales.

The industry estimates that it has lost retail sales revenue of R6.1 billion as a result of the 14-day ban and that the government has lost an estimated R3.6 billion in direct tax revenue (excluding excise tax) and the potential R1.5 billion in excise tax income. The 14-day ban put an estimated 4,604 jobs at risk, bringing the total jobs at risk for all bans to date to 233,547 jobs (equivalent to 1.49% of the national total for formal and informal employment for 2020).

“Despite all forms of gatherings being banned under the current lockdown regulations, the country witnessed a large convergence of people at the home of former President Zuma in Nkandla, but the police took no action. They ignored the public drinking and the public discharge of firearms that was broadcast on national TV,” said Mngadi, who lamented the fact that when the KZN infections spike in the next few weeks because of these illegal gatherings, it will be the alcohol industry that must once again pay the price.

Furthermore, liquor premises are becoming primary target of looting linked to the political unrest in KZN and organised crimes in other provinces where alcohol warehouse and liquor stores are targeted. “The continued prohibition of legal alcohol sales only serves to promote more criminal activities including the industrial scale production of illicit alcohol discovered in Welkom, Free State this weekend,” he said.

The industry has argued that restricting mobility through curfews, curbing gatherings and other protective measures including hygiene and sanitation have been recognised globally as the most effective and pragmatic approach to halting the spread of COVID-19. Along with this is a strong emphasis on the need for government to play its role in enforcement.

He said SA has had the hardest of COVID-19 lockdowns globally but has nothing to show for it in terms of results relative to its peers. “SA has the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Africa at more than two million, with approximately 62,000 deaths. The second highest country in the continent is Morocco, with 530,000 cases, a quarter of SA infections and less than 10,000 deaths. SA economic peers in the Africa region, Kenya and Nigeria are at 184,000 and 168,000 cases respectively, and both have not had a
total ban of alcohol sales,” said Mngadi.

SALBA CEO Kurt Moore said the speedy rollout of the vaccine was the only way to return businesses to some form of normality, but the South African government is lagging far behind its peers. “Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco lead the vaccination rate per 100 people in Africa. Closer to home in the SADC sub-region, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia are ahead of SA in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine per 100 people,” said Moore. Moore added that the announcement that public vaccine sites will start operating on weekends from August was an unacceptable response to the pandemic and called upon the President and the Health Minister to introduce weekend vaccines from Saturday 17 July 2021.

Mngadi said the lack of compliance with the wearing of masks is there for everyone to see “It is a behavioural issue that should have been addressed through effective health education and communication similar to that promoting condom use for HIV prevention. But unfortunately, the R150 million COVID-19 communication tender is currently a subject of a corruption investigation that the President does not address in his family meeting,” said Mngadi.

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