By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The Congress of Democrats (CoD) yesterday added its voice to the ongoing shebeen saga saying that the current Liquor Act favours of some top government officials who have swamped the shebeen industry. “It is a well-known fact that well-known Ministers and Government officials own shebeens”, the president of the opposition party, Ben Ulenga, alleged. At a press briefing yesterday, Ulenga said the current conditions pertaining to the Liquor Act favour the rich middle class and cannot be met by the ordinary poor Namibians under the current economic circumstances. This, Ulenga added, means Government in its actions is excluding ordinary poor people from opportunities to operate shebeens while rich government officials swamp the liquor and shebeen market. The CoD therefore supports the content of the petition handed over by the Namibia Shebeen Association (NASA) to President Pohamba where they requested a two-year moratorium on police action and a review of the Liquor Act. While the party is acutely aware of the negative social effects associated with alcohol abuse and agree with the principle of law, Ulenga says the government has mishandled and mismanaged the shebeen issue and has therefore, acted prejudicially against many thousands of people while the rich have generally rushed to benefit from the application of the law. He said, “Laws are written with conditions that suit them (the rich) and sideline the poor. It is an open secret that ministers own almost everything. Top government officials continue to abuse their public positions to obtain fishing quotas, mining concessions and lucrative government tenders”. He accused government of failing to consolidate the economy and create jobs for the people. Since independence, he added, Namibians expected to have better living conditions and the mushrooming of shebeens is clear evidence of the government’s failure to create an enabling environment where the economy can thrive to the benefit of all. In support of the idea, COD MP Tsudao Gurirab stated that the closure of shebeens would not automatically translate into a decline in a number of alcohol related crimes committed. “It does not mean Namibia will drink less if shebeens are closed. Crime does not exist because of the presence of shebeens but because liquor is there”, he argued. Whilst the shebeen economy is not the best for the country, the COD president of the Party Ulenga says it employs many people and brings economic relief to many families. Historically, shebeens are entities that operate in informal set-ups. It is not easy for the informal economy to build the toilets and have running taps (Schedule four of the Act), as the Act requires. This condition, Ulenga added, can easily be interpreted as ‘Shebeens should not exist in informal areas, and yet, this is a source of income for many. “We would like to point out the fourth schedule as being the section that especially requires reviewing. The conditions applicable to the fourth schedule discriminate against the poor but do not necessarily result in less liquor being sold. It simply favours the rich in obtaining liquor licenses”, Ulenga maintained. He adds that the sudden enforcement of the liquor Act eight years after it was introduced raises eyebrows. Unlike with other matters of national interest, since this Act was passed, the country has not seen intense campaigns aimed at educating and encouraging shebeens owners to comply with the law. “While we agree with President Pohamba’s sentiment that Namibia should not become a nation of drunkards, we would like to caution against mixing morality with the law”. The CoD will meet President Pohamba soon and the shebeen issue will form part of the discussion.
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