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Tobacco industry guns for Ramaphosa in court

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The liquor brand owners have warned that compressed operating hours could lead to overcrowding at outlets.

AS THE Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel is expected to outline guidelines on the off-sale of trading of alcoholic beverages – the liquor brand owners have warned that compressed operating hours could lead to overcrowding at outlets.

While liquor traders are expecting to open their doors on June 1 following a nine week ban – the tobacco industry players are fuming and ready to battle it out with President Cyril Ramaphosa in the North Gauteng High Court at a date to be set next week.

Reacting to the continued ban on the sale of cigarettes, Fair Trade Tobacco Association (Fita) chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said his association was very disappointed by the President’s decision.

“We were not consulted. There was no engagement with our sector which contributes billions to the economy of the country. After the initial announcement of the lockdown draft regulation which recommended the lifting of the ban, the government invited people to comment on the regulation.

“A total of 2 000 comments were received and they decided to overturn the decision. But they did not bother to consult us before making the recent decision,” Mnguni said.

He emphasised that they are going ahead with their court challenge saying the government has until today (tues) to provide them with the minutes of the meeting which set aside the decision to lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes.

“Our application was supposed to be heard on June 2 before Judge Basson. We have now received a new directive that the matter will now be heard before a full bench of the High Court. We expected it would be postponed by just a few days,” Mnguni said.

Meanwhile, liquor traders are hoping that an amicable terms will be reached with the government to regulate the sale of alcohol following the lifting of the ban on Sunday by Ramaphosa.

Announcing the lifting of the ban, Ramaphosa said alcohol may be sold for home consumption only under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.

“Announcements in this regard will be made once we have concluded discussions with the sector on the various conditions,” Ramaphosa said.

Speculation, however, is rife that the government wants liquor traders to sell their goods under strict regulations from Monday until Thursday. No sale, according to insiders, will be allowed over the weekend. The government according to insiders is of the view that the most violent and heinous crimes are committed over the weekend while perpetrators are under the influence.

Kurt Moore – CEO of the South Africal Liquor Brand Owners Association (SALBA) said the industry welcomes the move that will result in an “opening up of the economy.”

Moore, however, said that compressed operating hours could lead to overcrowding at outlets when consumers are allowed to purchase alcohol after the nine-week ban on the legal trade of alcohol.

“Industry associations, SALBA, the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) and VinPro have worked tirelessly with the Department of Trade and Industry and Competition and presented several proposals. These included safety protocols for the off-consumption and trading of alcohol, including e-commerce, and also addressed transmission risks across the value chain and solutions to enable the safety of the workforce, suppliers, retailers, and consumers. We look forward to ironing out the details.”

Vinpro CEO Rico Basson said players in the alcohol industry have been operating for more than eight weeks with zero income revenue but have remained committed to ensuring the industry gets back on its feet.

Basson said an estimated 117 600 jobs have been lost throughout the industry and 13% of the craft beer sector is in the process of shutting up shop, while the wine industry was in severe distress.

“As an industry, we are willing to participate in consultation with the government to provide proposals that help to reopen the alcohol industry further and begin to reconstruct the country’s economy to protect the livelihoods of one million people employed throughout the value chain,” Basson said