Government deviates from advice of its own health experts in imposing alcohol restrictions

Media Statement

  • The December 2020 alcohol sales ban was not recommended by government health advisors
  • The restrictions cause severe economic harm and are growing illegal alcohol trade 

South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA) notes with concern that Government’s announcement on Sunday 12 September to move the country to Level 2 restriction deviated from the advice of its own scientists and imposed unnecessary restrictions on the sale of alcohol for off-consumption.

The advisory note from the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 (MAC) dated 06 September (and published yesterday, 13 September) to the Minister of Health indicates that the MAC recommended that alcohol sales for off-consumption be returned “to the usual hours of sale in terms of the Liquor Act.”

It further states that “increasing the number of days on which alcoholic beverage sales for off-site consumption by only one day is difficult to justify, and so a return to normal selling hours is preferable”.

Despite this clear recommendation from MAC, Government announced that off-consumption alcohol sales will still be prohibited on Saturday and Sundays, and will be limited to the hours of 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday. At level 3, off-consumption alcohol sales were limited to Monday to Thursday.

“The decision of Government to impose restrictions on alcohol sales without a clear scientific basis and advice can only serve to erode public confidence that these restrictions are implemented with genuine interest to contain the spread of infections and impact of COVID-19 on our society,” said SALBA Chairperson, Sibani Mngadi.

The third total ban on alcohol sales imposed by Government on 28 December 2020 to 31 January 2021 in response to the second wave of COVID-19 infections was also not recommended by MAC. In its advisory note at the time, MAC recommended that off-consumption sales be limited to Monday to Thursday. However, Government implemented a total ban of all sales.

“SALBA has repeatedly called for the reasoning behind the decisions to prohibit or limit the off-consumption sales and to understand better the thinking that informs such. But no explanation has been forthcoming from Government,” said Mngadi.

The five-week prohibition on alcohol sales imposed in late December severely impacted the tourism, hospitality and liquor industries. These sectors 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.

“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,” he said. “We were assured by the President that decisions were based on recommendations from the scientific advisers on the MAC.”

SALBA CEO Kurt Moore said the multiple bans on alcohol sales implemented during 2020 and 2021 had been 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. Sales revenue lost as a result of the bans was approximately R36.3 billion. The country’s annualised GDP loss due to the prohibitions is approximately R51.9 billion, and the tax revenue loss (excluding excise) to the fiscus from the value chain arising from the bans amounts to R29.3 billion,” said Moore.

In addition to these economic losses, Moore said, there has also been a significant rise in illegal trade of alcohol due to the restrictions imposed on the formal alcohol industry.

“To put things into perspective, in 2020 the illicit market was worth R20.5 billion, which is R6.5 billion more than the R14 billion budget that the South African Police Service is allocated for criminal investigations. In 2020 SARS lost R11.3bn to the illicit alcohol trade– this is R1 billion more than the R10.3 billion allocated for COVID-19 vaccines,” said Moore.

 

Issued by FTI Consulting on behalf of the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA).

For interviews, or further information, please contact:

salba@fticonsulting.com