Mbabane: Localliquor traders are contemplating taking government to court before the end of this week, over the statement issued by the Prime Minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, through Government Spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini to the effect that alcohol distribution and sale remain prohibited despite the lapsing of the ban period.
This emerged at the liquor traders and executive meeting held at the George Hotel in Manzini on Wednesday.
Initially, government had said the alcohol distribution and sale ban will last for a period not more than two months. The ban was effected on June 30, 2020 and was expected to elapse at the end of August.
Against this backdrop, government, instead of announcing a reopening of the liquor sector, it backpedaled, announcing that the ban remain in place.
Traders noted that they should have begun operations on September 2 but were hindered by government’s resolve to maintain the existing state of affairs. Chairman of the traders association, Percival Sigwane said without a clear explanation on the lifting of the ban, they were left with two options, which are to take government to court or draft a petition to Parliament where they will lobby Members of Parliament to move a motion to call government to answer for not being clear on the ban.
Sigwane said if they resumed operations, they would be acting on firm legal ground but were afraid that the police, acting on the PM’s statement, would close in on them, hence they needed an authority structure like the courts or Parliament.
He stated that they had waited too long while on the other hand they paid the annual trading licenses as well as the renewals, whose costs stand at E172.00 and E175.00, respectively. Sigwane mentioned that they have made orders for alcohol at the Eswatini Beverages, but they are in the dark on how to move on due to government’s lack of clarity. “We have made orders at the Eswatini Beverages and on payment, they will make deliveries, but we wonder what will happen to the stock while we wait for government pronouncement on the sale of alcohol,” he said.
Sigwane said it was difficult to understand government’s resolution to stamp down on the sale of alcohol, when it is the main source of government’s revenue after that of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), adding that alcohol contribute around E20 million per month for government. He said other than assisting government in raising the economy they were breadwinners whose livelihoods depended entirely on the sale of alcohol.
Sigwane said they would pray before the court that the government shows cause for disallowing the resumption of the sale of alcohol in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that they had labored to link the spread of the virus through imbibing but in vain. “Government will have to prove that the spread of the coronavirus is largely attributed to the alcohol consumption and if not it would be fair for the courts to rule in their (traders’) favour.
Sigwane said the other option they were weighing on was to draft a petition and take it to the House of Assembly, through Clerk to Parliament, Ndvuna Dlamini. He said there were those of parliamentarians who sympathized with the alcohol traders and would move a motion to call government to account. Sigwane said it was worthy of mention that it would not be the first time they would take the matter to parliament, adding that the last time their support was dismal, with only 20 MPs backing up the lifting of the ban while the rest remained on the side of government. Hence, said Sigwane, it was the duty of the members of the association to lobby their MPs to stand by the association’s grievance. He said in submitting the petition to parliament the association would abide by the Public Order Act.
The Public Order Act of 2017 is an Act which promotes and protects public order, public health, public safety and public morals, giving effect to the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and freedom of expression, all embodied in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini. Sigwane said even as they would take the petition to parliament they would be fully aware of the health situation in the country where the coronavirus has come hard, and would only take handful of members including stakeholders to deliver the petition.
Eswatini Beverages No Show
Members of the liquor association of Eswatini learnt with disappointment that major stakeholders, the Eswatini Beverages didn’t make it to the consultative meeting. The chairman said it was disheartening that the brewing company didn’t honor the invitation as their input would be dearly appreciated. In fact, only two distributers were available at the meeting, being USA Distillers (PTY) LTD and Pick ‘N’ Pay, but had nothing contribute. Other distributers that didn’t make it were SMC and AD.
Association has no money
It emerged in the meeting that the liquor association has no money. Chairman of the association, Percival Sigwane said their operations were hindered by the lack of money and the time had come whereby members deposited money to the association’s account on a monthly basis. Sigwane stated that even their dream of taking the matter to court could be hampered by lack of funds, which would be needed to hire a lawyer. The chairman mentioned that they didn’t even have the money to pay for the rented room they had hired for the meeting, which was to the tune of E750.00, calling for members to make a contribution, which some members made while others didn’t. The chairman mentioned that there were over 3400 alcohol outlets and with a contribution of E100 from each of them the association would walk away with E340, 000, money which they would use for among other things legal costs.