INDEPENDENT Basotho Off-Sales Association (IBOSA) chairperson Lefa Ramoholi says the ban on alcohol sales has hit them hard through the loss of earnings.
Mr Ramoholi said the ban is also deepening poverty as cash-strapped businesses cannot afford to pay workers without generating any income. He said some of their members are struggling to repay loans for their businesses as well as insurance premiums.
The ban on alcohol was first introduced during the nationwide lockdown from 30 March to 5 May 2020. It was re-introduced on 20 July 2020 as part of efforts to fight escalating Coronavirus (Covid-19) infections which currently stand at 742 cases countrywide.
“We were not consulted before the government re-introduced the ban on alcohol sales,” Mr Ramoholi said.
“The government just banned sales without even considering the negative impact of its decision on our businesses.
“They ignored the fact that our businesses depend on sales income to pay monthly rentals for trading premises. We are facing cash flow challenges and we are in danger of defaulting on our insurance premiums and business loan payments.
“They also failed to consider our employees’ welfare. We therefore feel that by continuing to ban alcohol sales, the government is contributing to unemployment and thereby deepening poverty in the country. The likely result of this ban is an increase in crime by desperate unemployed people.”
He said the alcohol industry had been unfairly treated when compared with other businesses.
“We are being unfairly discriminated against as there are other businesses such as the supermarkets which are often overcrowded without any social distancing. Yet they remain open. We cannot understand why our businesses have been closed when we operate as off-sales where people just buy the product and leave. The customers don’t sit down to drink and therefore there is no real danger of large gatherings which could fuel the spread of the virus.”
He said like all other bans of alcohol that have been tried in other parts of the world, the ban would not stop the consumption of liquor. It would only fuel the black market where liquor is sold at exorbitant prices, he said.
He said the ban would starve the government of much-needed revenue because illegal dealers did not pay any taxes.
“The ban has also opened up an opportunity for the illegal trading of alcohol. These businesses which do not pay tax have mushroomed all over the country as a result of the ban.
“The least the government could do is to partially allow alcohol sales on certain days.
“We are asking the government to reconsider its decision to ban the sale of alcohol for the sake of our businesses, employees and the government which is losing out on significant tax revenues at the moment,” he said.
Alcohol trading is licensed by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture.
Tourism minister Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane yesterday said he was aware of the plight of the alcohol traders. He said his ministry was engaging its government counterparts to find ways of addressing the concerns of the different businesses which fell under his ministry.
“I met them (alcohol traders). They are not the only ones hit hard by the Covid-19 mitigation measures. We are working hard to see what can be done to assist them.
“So, we are lobbying for their interests along with those of artistes and other sectors which fall under my ministry who are also suffering during this time of Covid-19,” Adv Rakuoane said.