Shebeeners Go Home

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK After camping outside the parliament buildings for more than a week in protest against the current Liquor Act, shebeen operators have finally agreed to go home. Yesterday, the president of the Namibia Shebeen Association (NASA) Veripi Kandenge confirmed to New Era that after thorough consultations with various stakeholders, including government ministries and influential personalities, NASA reached an interim decision to withdraw all NASA members and supporters from the gardens of the parliament buildings. “We are just waiting for buses to come to transport them, if not today late afternoon, then the latest will be tomorrow”, Kandenge said. He said the association was pleased that it had finally managed to reap tangible successes from its action. He added that government has admitted that the Liquor Act 1998 (Act 6 of 1998) is flawed and cannot be implemented in its present form. Almost three weeks ago, shebeeners handed over a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab, appealing to the Namibian government to stop police action that saw the closure of more than 2000 illegal liquor outlets in various parts of the country. The shebeeners took a decision to make the parliament gardens their temporary home while they waited for a government response to their grievances listed in the petition. Despite President Hifikepunye Pohamba and other top government officials requesting shebeeners to return to their homes, they refused to budge and vowed to leave only after they had an answer to their complaints. Unconfirmed reports say the leaders of those camped outside parliament were called in by former Swapo president Sam Nujoma who urged them to go home late last week. A statement prepared by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said the petition by NASA has brought to the fore the need for urgent measures to resolve the issue of shebeen licensing. After the formation of an inter-ministerial committee approved by President Pohamba, the committee after careful considerations took certain measures aimed at removing all the identified hurdles that have so far proved difficult to meet to obtain a licence. “The said measures are being taken in the context of full respect for and upholding of the rule of law in a country governed by the Constitution. It will take a process to submit the measures to legal scrutiny by drafters before they are gazetted”, the statement reads. In an effort to put the Liquor Act into context and the recent events into perspective in order to dispel misconceptions, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said that even prior to its passage in parliament, the Liquor Bill was exposed to wide consultations nationwide before it became law. The period from 1998 to 2001 was devoted to the development of the required regulations, materials and awareness campaigns. During 2001 when the Act entered into force, police had by then not looked for unlicensed shebeens. According to the ministry, this was because police concentrated on fighting crime while the Ministry of Trade and Industry continued to work with all relevant stakeholders, including NASA, to ensure smooth implementation of the Act. The engagements with stakeholders also included urging shebeeners to co-operate and legalize their operations. Based on one of the conditions stipulated in the Act, a shebeen must have two toilets for use by patrons. At present, very few shebeen owners can afford erecting two separate structures for their customers. The statement says liquor licences are not given to individuals but to premises where the liquor is sold as stipulated in the town planning Ordinance No. 18 of 1954 which regulates the location and usage of liquor outlets. Most of the shebeens unfortunately do not meet these requirements and thus most of them have no licenses and are considered illegal. After re-looking at the Act, the ministry says that the town-planning ordinance is outdated and does not take into account the concept and reality of SMEs and self-employment activities. This situation calls for an urgent need to review the Act. Kandenge says, “We felt we will be unfair to the government and decided to give them time. Now we know they are looking at our problem and we will see how far we can go”.