SA govt does about turn on Liquor Bill

The South African government has confirmed that fundamental changes have been made to liquor legislation — stopping in its tracks a form of the legislation which would have curtailed distribution and manufacturing by the same players.

At a workshop of the national assembly trade and industry committee and the national council of provinces select committee on economic and foreign affairs, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) deputy director general Astrid Ludin said concerns had been raised during hearings in Parliament about the implementation of the three-tier system by the new Liquor Bill.

Issues around its constitutionality had been among the causes of concern, she told members of Parliament (MPs) and provincial ministers — including KwaZulu Natal economic affairs member of the executive committee (MEC) Roger Burrows of the Democratic Alliance and Western Cape finance MEC Ebrahim Rasool, of the ruling African National Congress — who is in charge of the process of retail liquor licensing.

“At the end of hearings the DTI was given the opportunity to review the Bill and consult the industry. It was agreed that a separate process would be pursued with the provinces to address some of the concerns raised at the hearings,” said Ludin.

“Since May we have been fairly busy… we have had a series of meetings with industry players which resulted in broad agreement. We effected amendments and circulated them to parties which had made submissions to the portfolio committee,” she said.

“We held a workshop on July 17 with the parties which had made submissions and took further verbal comments …and effected final changes to the Bill.”

The amendments included the removal of schedule two of the draft Bill, which details the functions of the provincial liquor authority and qualifications for registration as micro-manufacturer or seller of liquor for consumption. Ludin noted that it had been argued during discussions that the granting of retail licences was an exclusive provincial competence in terms of the Constitution. Provinces are in the process of fine-tuning their own liquor legislation.

In terms of the original Bill a micro-manufacturer is a producer, rectifier, blender, broker, distiller, bottler of liquor or a wine farmer who in a calendar year does not deal in the volume of liquor that exceeds the prescribed volume.

Two chapters of the original Bill — three and four — have been replaced with one chapter on registration and licensing of manufacturers and distributors. “These [chapters] dealt with general prohibitions on vertical and horizontal trade and were combined into one chapter.” This chapter now provided for registration of manufacturers and distributors or both, she told MPs on Monday.

It is understood that the amended version allows for separate licences for manufacturing and distribution of liquor products but manufacturers would be allowed to hold distribution licences.

The original plan was to create a three-tier industry — with the curtailing of cross-cutting interests particularly by big players in the industry.

During discussions this morning African National Congress Eastern Cape provincial legislature member Andre de Wet argued that provincial legislation — which would set norms for provincial liquor outlets and provide the framework for provincial licensing of retailers — should provide a window period for informal outlets (such as shebeens in townships) to give them time to qualify in terms of the legal framework in which they will operate. – I-Net Bridge

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