The South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (SALBA) wants to understand why, despite opposing recommendations by the department of health, government imposed a complete ban on all alcohol sales during the December festive period.
In a media release SALBA calls government out for failing to follow the recommendations from its own community of health experts.
This comes after government’s most recent decision to publish some of the advisory notes of the Ministerial Advisory Council (MAC), that informed various decisions of the National Coronavirus Command Council.
The published notes suggest that government went against the MAC’s recommendations on the third ban of alcohol sales that was implemented from 28 December 2020 to 1 February 2021.
According to the notes, the MAC recommended that for the December festive period, alcohol sales for off-site consumption should only be restricted to Mondays to Thursdays between 10am and 6pm, and wine farms and wine-tasting venues should continue to operate.
SALBA chairperson Sibani Mngadi says, “Despite the endorsement of this by the department of health, the government imposed a complete ban on all alcohol sales. This had a hugely detrimental impact on the industry.”
SALBA says they are concerned that, from MAC advisory notes available, there is no recommendation for the third ban of alcohol sales that was implemented by government.
Mngadi says he finds it disturbing that government was not using the recommendations from its own community of health experts.
“We were assured by the president that decisions were based on recommendations from the scientific advisers on the MAC,” he states.
National socio-economic disaster
The five-week prohibition on alcohol sales imposed in late December severely impacted the tourism, hospitality and liquor industries. These sectors, SALBA says, were already hard-hit by previous bans and other restrictions, which the government justified on “scientific” grounds to slow the spread of the virus and reduce hospital admissions.
“SALBA has repeatedly called for the reasoning behind the decisions to prohibit or limit the off and on-consumption sales and to understand better the thinking that informs restrictions of the off-consumption channel,” says Mngadi.
The multiple bans on alcohol sales implemented during 2020 and 2021 Mngadi describes as being “a national socio-economic disaster”.
The cumulative impact of the bans put 200 200 jobs supported by the alcohol value chain at risk in the nation’s informal and formal economy, SALBA says.
They calculate that approximately R36.3 billion in sales revenue was lost as a result of the bans.
Furthermore, the country’s annual GDP loss due to the prohibitions is approximately R51.9 billion, and the tax revenue loss to the fiscus (excluding excise) from the value chain arising from the bans amounts to R29.3 billion.
A call for openness and transparency
The alcohol industry has repeatedly pledged their committed to playing its role in the economic recovery of SA.
Mngadi says, “We have continually confirmed our willingness to work with the government with the common objective of limiting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and putting the South African economic trajectory on a growth path.”
In numerous reports, the industry calls for a social compact with the government, industry, and civil society to promote responsible trading and sensible alcohol consumption.
They believe the starting point should be open and transparent discussions on strategy and implementation.
SALBA does, however, welcome government’s decision to publish some of the advisory notes. For them, it is an important step in creating transparency on the basis for the decision of the National Coronavirus Command Council at various stages of the lockdown, which have had a significant social and economic impact for the country.