Govt Besieged by Shebeen Owners

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Four days after submitting their second petition to government demanding a moratorium on the Liquor Act, Shebeen owners are still ‘camped’ outside the Parliament buildings demanding what they term ‘a favourable answer’. Last Thursday, thousands of demonstrators marched to the National Assembly where they handed over a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Theo Ben Gurirab, and the Chairman of the National Council, Asser Kapere. Despite the Speaker assuring the demonstrators, through Namibia Shebeen Association (NASA) president Veripi Kandenge, that cabinet would speedily look into the matter, shebeen owners demanded an answer on the spot. Since then, they have been spending days and nights outside the parliament building. Fellow shebeen owners have mobilised and put money together to ensure that their colleagues in the industry had something to eat. More than 30 loaves of bread where piled in one corner when New Era visited the site yesterday. By mid-morning yesterday, men and women where still gathered there saying they would only move if they get the desired answer: A two-years moratorium on the Liquor Act to allow them to obtain the required liquor licences. On Saturday, Minister of Trade and Industry Immanuel Ngatjizeko, on President Pohamba’s request addressed the disgruntled shebeen owners. “The President has requested me to come to speak to you on his behalf to tell you that he is very much aware of the problems that you are facing”, said Ngatjizeko. After conveying the President’s message, determined shebeeners maintained they would still gather outside Parliament until such time as the government responds to their grievances. Pohamba also requested them to return to their homes as the issue was currently enjoying serious attention – both at executive and legislative levels. Dawid Auawala, owner of a closed Ondangwa Shebeen at the coastal town of Walvis Bay, told New Era that, “we will stay here till we get the right answer”. He added they prefer assembling at Parliament in case the answer is not favourable to them after which they can still petition the government. An inter-ministerial committee has been established since the group handed over the first petition to State House. According to Ngatjizeko, the President has instructed the inter-ministerial committee to work very fast to address the issue. Having submitted their petition to parliament, the minister says this was the right decision. However, parliament only meets from Tuesdays to Thursdays and thus the expectation is that the petition is only going to be presented to MPs tomorrow. In his capacity as the minister responsible for administering the Liquor Act, Ngatjizeko confirmed that last Thursday he had made a statement in parliament announcing the ministry’s intentions. Meanwhile, Kandenge yesterday stated that his people were bothered by the fact that this shebeen operation is only strictly applied in the Erongo and Karas regions. More than 2000 shebeens have been closed since operation ‘No Shebeens’ started in the Erongo Region more than a month ago. Kandenge added that more than 6000 people who are in the shebeen business are doing it due to a lack of other alternatives that can help them generate money. Some economists have also argued that shebeens are part of the second economy and are making a positive contribution to the economy through job creation (self-employment) and poverty alleviation where income generated from shebeens is used to finance education and to support families, and that the mushrooming of shebeens in Namibia is a sign of entrepreneurship. Apart from the 6000 people involved as owners of these liquor outlets, close to 75 000 people are employed in this industry. Economist Martin Mwinga recently told New Era that most people opt for shebeens because there is little capital requirement involved and they are easy to run and manage. Moreover, Shebeen owners and their employees are counted as employed in the official statistics. So, the unemployment figure of 35% includes shebeen owners and other informal business owners. If these businesses were closed down, unemployment would shoot up to even more than 50%. The licence requirements, such as having a toilet next to one’s shebeen, could be viewed as too stringent and only a few can afford it. While other opposition political parties support shebeen owners, the Republican Party supports police action, adding that it is no secret that liquor can be an extremely dangerous commodity which has already destroyed the lives of many individuals. “Every Namibian citizen should therefore encourage and strongly support the government through the Ministry of Trade and Industry to regulate the liquor industry properly to ensure that liquor can only be sold by those to whom licenses have been issued”, said RP president Henk Mudge. Mudge further revealed that his party disapproves of pleas by individuals for the government to be more lenient towards those operating shebeens.