It’s time to stop drafting bad legislation

Dean Macpherson on the problems with the current draft Liquor Amendment Bill

It’s time to stop drafting bad legislation

The current draft Liquor Amendment Bill published by the Department of Trade and Industry is certainly one of the more contentious pieces of legislation that has found its way into Parliament in 2016. 

My job as a Member of Parliament and legislator is to make sense of the arguments and to try and craft a bill that is sensible, rational enforceable, protects society and jobs ,while not limiting South Africans freedom as enshrined in the Constitution. No easy task then.

Unfortunately, South Africa has been dogged by poor legislation with liquor policy formation and legislation no exception.These range from the poorly thought out and drafted film publications bill to the border management bill.

What the current Amendment Bill tries to do is regulate what many people already know: alcohol abuse is a serious problem in our society and costs our country dearly, roughly 7-10% of GDP or around R165 - R236 billion per year. 

It is therefore quite obvious that current legislation has been inadequate in dealing with alcohol related challenges that affect South Africa and this is largely because the focus of legislation is that of regulation and compliance of the registration of manufacturers and distributors of liquor; the production and composition for sale of certain liquor products; and the granting of licences to retailers to sell or the setting of trading times in respect of licensed premises. 

Coupled with this, the proposed Bill seeks to remove provinces rights, as enshrined in the Constitution to regulate liquor licenses despite having to bear disproportionately the costs and enforcement of the current Act.

Section 7, 1 & 2 of the Bill propose that no new liquor licenses may be issued within 500 meters of a petrol station, transport hub, public institution or residential suburb. If one was to use the City of Cape Town as an example, no new licenses could be issued within the thriving tourist CBD, including the much loved V&A Waterfront as all of the listed exclusions fall within this space. This would be devastating to tourism and ultimately lead to jobs losses.

The much talked about increasing of age limits from 18 to 21 years old is a great example of how skewed this bill is towards regulating problems away. To date, the department has not provided a single piece of strong evidence or long-term research to back this proposal up. Instead, they have relied on highlighting how this is achieved in places like the United States and Japan over the short-term. It is quite obvious that there is a big difference between these two counties and South Africa. In truth, it would be totally unworkable and irresponsible to criminalise something that is considered acceptable and, at the very same time, massively widen the scope to combat underage drinking. 

That is why, the DA has proposed in our position paper that every establishment that either sells or advertisers alcohol, must insist on the person purchasing liquor to produce some form of ID. Should they fail to do so, alcohol can not be purchased.

Retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers are certainly not saints when it comes to their business. Of course it is in their interest to make a profit from selling as much alcohol as possible. Therefore, they too have a role to play in enforcing the conditions of their licenses. 

One of the biggest problems we face is the very enforcement of these often quite strict conditions, however, they are frequently only accompanied by a slap on the wrist or at worst a fine.

In order for this culture to change, the DA has proposed a “three strike” system whereby a licensee can lose their license for a period of 5 years should they repeatedly violate their conditions. This will be a strong enough deterrent for establishments to play by the rules.

We know from the facts provided to us by the Western Cape Government that it costs them around R21 billion per year to clean up the mess of alcohol abuse. From infrastructure damage to the toll on the health care system, it is an enormous cost that deviates vital resources away from frontline service delivery. Provinces and cities must be able to recover the costs from those that inflict damage to the system. Deterrent pricing models are not a new idea, in fact we already do that through sin taxes, the difference is that this is not re-directed back towards hospitals and repairing lamp posts.

The DA believes a progressive model of cost recovery through provincial levies on liquor sales would be a great opportunity to mitigate these costs as well as further deterring people to drink excessively.

This bill and what it does and doesn't propose have far reaching consequences for South Africa. We as legislators must ensure that this bill speaks to the very real and evident problems we know already exist while putting progressive solutions on the table. 

For far too long, legislation emanating from government has been poorly thought out and drafted. Its high time, the government began applying its mind correctly and getting its house in order before this current bill faces bottlenecks with constitutional issues. If we miss this opportunity, it may be some time before we get another chance to turn the tide on alcohol abuse.

Dean Macpherson MP is a Member of Parliament for the Democratic Alliance and Shadow Deputy Minister for Trade & Industry