Proposed liquor amendment bill slammed

Johan Dreyer, middle, attempts to answer some of the questions from the public. Seated on his left is Phillip Prinsloo and advocate JC Gerber on the right.

Bar owners and liquor traders criticised proposed provincial liquor amendment regulations at a public participation meeting, held at a city hotel on Friday February 2.

The meeting was held by the provincial Department of Community Safety, which oversees the Liquor Authority in the Western Cape.

The saturation of liquor licences in a particular area, regulation of unlicensed establishments, correct documentation to open an establishment and deadlines within the Liquor Authority were some of the issues raised at the meeting.

The public has until Tuesday February 28 to comment on the amendments, and various public meetings have been held throughout the city to explain the amendments and give people a chance to have their concerns addressed by members of the Liquor Authority and the Liquor Tribunal.

The provincial liquor regulation amendments are not to be confused with the proposed national liquor act amendments, which are simultaneously going through public participation, also until February 28.

Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said that while the national proposed liquor act dealt with regulating the liquor industry and the sale of liquor on a large scale, the provincial proposed bill dealt with regulating the Western Cape’s own liquor industry issues.

“We are increasing prices and tightening some of the regulations and addressing the issues that we have in the province. We have some concerns with the national proposed act, such as raising the legal age group to 21 years old as opposed to 18 years old, and the fact that they propose that no liquor establishments be opened 500m away from a place of worship, a school, rehabilitation and treatment centres and recreational centres. This will have a dire impact on the liquor industry in our communities and townships, and we will engage extensively with the national government about this.”

Some of the other amendments highlighted in the proposed national liquor act prohibits liquor advertising on radio and TV between 6am and 7pm daily and a ban on billboard advertising being placed less than 100 meters away from street corners and traffic junctions.

The current act prohibits liquor adverts from 2pm to 5pm on weekdays and before noon on weekends on TV, and radio restrictions are 6am to 9am and 2pm to 5pm on weekdays, and no adverts before noon on weekends.

Sidwell Medupe, the spokesman for the national Department of Trade and Industry, which oversees liquor regulation in the country, said the approach to liquor regulations had so far not yielded drastic consumption reduction, as alcohol abuse was increasing in the country.

“The liquor amendment bill aims to address this. South Africa has also the highest incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome. The indirect cost of alcohol burden to taxpayers is R240 billion. It is estimated that alcohol is responsible for around 130 deaths every day. The liquor amendment bill is intending to address this.”

Some of the changes to the provincial liquor amendment bill are: the increase of prices to obtain and maintain a liquor licence; tightening trading licences; implementing new documentation when you apply for a liquor licence, such as a tax clearance certificates and floor plans of your establishment; and increasing the waiting period of an event licence to 50 days instead of 21 days.

Another major change will see liquor inspectors given more power to regulate unlicensed establishments.

The Liquor Authority only deals with licenced liquor outlets, and, up to now, unlicenced premises have been dealt with by SAPS.

Now, said Mr Plato, that has changed. Liquor inspectors can now give notices to unlicensed premises and fine them, and they will forfeit the cost of any legal action against the establishment. “The aim of this is to get the unlicensed liquor establishments licensed and in line so that we can better regulate them.”

The main concern for the previous presiding officer of the Liquor Tribunal, Vincent Bergh, was the lack of funding for the Liquor Authority to implement the plans they have in place. “When I was at the presiding officer, there was not enough money to carry out the duties and employ the people we had to. There is not enough people to do the work; that is why we fell behind with paperwork.”

The Liquor Authority only has eight liquor inspectors operating in the Western Cape.

He said it was impractical to ask for a tax-clearance certificate when applying for a licence. “We want to encourage those who are not regulated to become regulated. Most unlicensed premises operate this way because they don’t have the necessary documentation to become licensed. SARS can deal with them once we have them regulated.”

Furthermore, he said that the process was “clumsy”. “We can’t have this while people are still waiting for their liquor licences, some even for years.

“Waiting 50 days for an event licence will not work. We need to keep it at 21 days.”