Monday, March 30, 2009

TOT MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Proposed bylaws flatten the froth on beer. By Bernard Gutman.

Enjoying a drink with friends late into the evening is a part of
South African culture. In Cape Town, the summer sun’s journey
down past the horizon takes forever; people leave the beaches
at dusk; the bars and restaurants in Camps Bay come alive
when the sun sets and talk in the township taverns carries on
way past midnight.
In past years, summer was the time the liquor industry
celebrated the froth on the beer, the bubbles rising in
Champagne and the high-spirited party people pushing sales.
But now, with beer sales down 30 per cent, job cuts rising and
the general state of the economy, did we need more misery?
Clearly not, but that is what the proposed liquor trading bylaw
will inflict on everyone involved in the liquor industry.

What the bylaw says is that on-consumption venues in
residential areas will be able to serve alcohol only between
11h00 and 21h00; on-consumption outlets in general business
or central business district areas will be allowed to serve
alcohol until 02h00; and establishments in mixed business
and residential areas will be able to trade until 23h00. There
are strict penalties for non-compliance with the liquor law.
The aim of the National Liquor Act and related local and
national regulations is to reduce socio-economic ills arising
from the abuse of alcohol. This is commendable. But the new
regulations will not achieve this. Proper policing of the existing
laws are sufficient to reduce the ills arising from alcohol abuse.
Visible policing and zero tolerance to traffic offences reduced
the road deaths over the year-end holidays by 40 per cent. Zero
tolerance and visible, efficient policing of reasonable existing
laws works – it worked in New York and it works in Sea Point.

A part of the Liquor Act that applies countrywide is that liquor
distributors can sell larger quantities of liquor only to licensed
retailers, including shebeens. Licensing shebeens and taverns
is necessary. If a business wishes to sell alcohol, it should expect
and welcome proper regulation and licensing.

We are a society that wishes to protect its citizens from unscrupulous operators
while doing all things necessary to support licensed operators.
A licence facilitates good business practice and brings informal
business into the mainstream economy. That part of the Liquor
Act makes sense. The new regulations don’t.
Back to the local regulations; if society is suffering because
of alcohol abuse, forcing a nightclub to stop serving drinks
at 02h00 will not solve this problem. An underground, illegal
drinking culture may emerge. Proper policing of licensed
outlets, with continual zero tolerance for drink driving offences
is the answer.

Wouldn’t it better for society if nightclubs and
bars that sell liquor to 15-year-old children at all times of the
night were shut down, rather than forcing owners of law-abiding
venues, with strict admission policies, to close early?
City attorney, Louis Herbert, deals with liquor law matters on
behalf of several entertainment establishments. He said that
“the regulations don’t take into account the legitimate needs of
the tourism and entertainment industry. The idea of licences is
to control business, not to prevent it from taking place. There is
a clear need for a 04h00 licence and the proposed regulations
do not adequately cater for this need. This is short-sighted and
will have to be addressed”.

Shebeen and tavern owners – who operate in residential
areas – will have to stop serving alcohol at 21h00. Five-star
guesthouses and B&Bs in residential areas will have to do the
same. The people who drafted the proposed regulations could
not have properly applied their minds. Imagine visitors from
Europe staying at the ultra exclusive Ellerman House in Bantry
Bay being told that they cannot have a glass of wine with their
dinner. Imagine a patron of a township tavern, just returned
after a day’s work and two hours on public transport, being
told he cannot have a beer after 21h00. The proposals are not
workable, not reasonable and harmful to the industry.
We spoke with nightclub and bar owners, managers
and service staff, who gave their views on the proposals on
condition of anonymity. They said that more harm would be
caused by restricting sales to 02h00 as this would encourage
binge drinking. They much prefer customers to take their time
and drink responsibly.

Guesthouse owners are stunned at the lack of insight from the lawmakers.
Job losses in the tourism and hospitality industry would be inevitable if the regulations are adopted.

Bottle store and boutique wine store owners would like
to extend trading hours where necessary. They would like to
determine for themselves when to shut their doors. They point
out that they would not have extended hours of trading unless
there was a demand, as they would not incur overtime and other
staff costs unless opening later than usual was commercially
viable. Vaughn Johnson, who has had more experience than
most in dealing with extended trading hours, said that in
communities where alcohol abuse is rife, the communities
themselves should be able to define reasonable trading hours.
The communities are the ones most affected, so the decision
should be in their hands.

South Africa is the tourist hub of Africa and Cape Town is
the centre of that hub. To restrict the sale of alcohol under
the regulations proposed is bad for the economy. A number of
people and industries will suffer.

It is time to send the lawmakers back to begin the process again.