BASA calls on Minister Patel to save jobs

20 October 2021

BASA calls on Minister Patel to save jobs and prevent the NCCC from recommending non-scientific alcohol bans in future  

With the recent media announcement made by Police Minister Bheki Cele that alcohol sales will be banned on the 1st of November – the date of the local elections-  BASA remains concerned that there is a real risk that government will once again enforce arbitrary alcohol restrictions when the expected fourth wave of Covid-19 infections hits in December.

BASA has therefore written to Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) Ebrahim Patel requesting his urgent intervention at a Cabinet level to ensure that irrational alcohol bans are no longer imposed,  especially over the festive season, which is  a critical time for our local beer industry and the thousands of jobs it supports.

This latest appeal for Minister Patel to fulfil his obligations to meaningfully consult with the industry, follows previous letters sent to the Minister over the past few months, requesting to meet to discuss the devastating impact of the previous four alcohol bans, which have received no response to date.

The previous four bans saw the beer industry losing 161 days of trade since March last year, putting just over 240 000 jobs at risk, with a tax revenue loss of R34.2 billion and R10.2 billion lost in excise revenue. No government funding or relief has been provided to assist our sector throughout this crisis, which has resulted in many small businesses being forced to close their doors permanently, including 27 craft breweries. South Africa currently has the highest unemployment rate in the world – any further job losses within the alcohol industry will have a devastating impact on our economy.

The beer industry has repeatedly requested government to provide the scientific data and evidence on which they have based their decision to enforce the previous alcohol bans. When the country was moved to Alert Level 2 on Monday, 21 September 2021, bottle stores were allowed to operate for one extra day a week, on Fridays. Unsurprisingly, this was not what government’s scientific advisors had recommended. In fact, a memo from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) indicated that any attempts to keep in place the ban on alcohol sales for offsite consumption on Saturdays was “difficult to justify”. This proves that government’s restrictions on alcohol have not been the result of an evidence-based approach.

This is not the first time that national government has used the alcohol industry as a scapegoat. A memo, which was published by the National Department of Health on 23 December 2020, recommended a Level 2 lockdown, a curfew and restrictions on gatherings but did not make any mention of a ban on liquor sales. Regardless of this fact and recommendation, a ban on the sale of alcohol was instituted from 28 December 2020 to 1 February 2021. This had devastating consequences on our local craft brewing sector, which is still struggling to recover from the loss of income as a result of the first two alcohol bans.

Given such arbitrary decision making, BASA fears that our local beer industry could once again suffer the consequences of government restrictions in the lead up to summer. This concern has been reinforced by Minister Cele announcing that alcohol sales will be banned on municipal election day, with no reason given for government’s decision or any consultation with the industry having taken place.

BASA  continues to call for proper consultation by government before considering any new regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19 over the coming months.

Our industry, and the over 450 000 livelihoods it supports, can simply not afford the President announcing another immediate ban on the legal trade of alcohol without any prior warning or an opportunity to properly engage with government. BASA firmly believes that as the Minister responsible for trade and industry, Patel should listen to our plight and take up our concerns in order to help us save a sector so vital to our economy and job creation. It has therefore requested an urgent meeting with him to discuss government’s plans to save lives and livelihoods ahead of the festive season.

With thousands of businesses and jobs across the beer value chain still at risk, immediate action is required if we are to keep people employed and families fed over the December period.

Please attribute quotes to Patricia Pillay, CEO of the Beer Association of South Africa

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