By Zwelethu Dlamini | 2020-11-22
There was pandemonium when police raided and closed liquor retail outlets in Manzini yesterday morning despite the law permitting them to trade.
Apparently, the order to close the outlets was based on the fact that there was no gazette on the amended COVID-19 regulations. However, it later turned that this was a misunderstanding as the gazette had already been published very late on Thursday.
The amended COVID-19 Regulations came into effect on Thursday when they were passed in Parliament, thus permitting traders to open their outlets on Saturday.
As per the amendment a bottle store, wine and malt, night club or a pub shall sell liquor for home consumptions only and shall operate from Mondays to Fridays, between 10am and 6pm; and on Saturdays from 9am to 2pm.
This was received as good news by the liquor industry as well as consumers as alcohol will now be sold on Saturday as well as an extension of operation hours.
However, the liquor traders association reported that on Friday and yesterday that some of their members were forced to adhere to the previous regulations as the police closed their outlets using the erstwhile regulations.
Chairperson of the Association Thamsanqa Hlatshwako confirmed that they had received numerous calls from their concerned members following that police had forced them to close despite having been informed of the recent development which permits them to sell liquor on Saturday at the stipulated times.
“On Friday, Manzini Municipal Council and the police held a workshop with the liquor traders where they were sensitised them on the COVID-19 regulations.
The police told our members that the new operating hours were not yet gazetted hence they will not allow anyone to sell using the updated regulations. They also told the traders that they did not expect someone to open after 5pm on the Friday and to open on Saturday.
It is that meeting that resulted in police closing the liquor outlets by 5pm on Friday and again today (yesterday). “We have received numerous calls from our members complaining about the matter as they were aware that Parliament had announced that we should be allowed to open on Saturday,” he said.
Manzini Municipal Council Public Relations Officer Mathokoza Thwala confirmed that they held a workshop with the liquor traders and the police were part of the meeting.
“We held the workshop which was mainly to sensitise liquor traders on health and hygiene issues that they are expected to adhere to as well as emphasise adherence to the COVID-19 regulations now that they have been allowed to open. It is also true that police were part of the agenda,” he said.
Hlatshwako on the other hand stated that the association had consulted the office of the attorney general as well as the ministry of commerce industry and trade on Friday to get clarity following the pronouncement by Parliament as well as the position of the police which was contrary and bringing confusion.
He said both government entities had told them that they were in principle within their right to operate using the amended regulations which saw the operating being extended and the outlets being allowed to operate on Saturday.
“Having received that communication we then informed our members that they can open on Saturday. We were, however, disturbed to get calls from our members from the Lubombo and Manzini complaining that the police were forcing them to close in the morning.
The gazette was published at 10 and should have been effective on 19 November. We then called Manzini Deputy Station Commander who admitted that indeed police has been assigned to close liquor outlet because they had not yet received the gazette.
He then stated that they have since received the gazette and apologised that some of our members had been affected saying they were going to recall the police and inform them about the latest development which means liquor traders were permitted to sell on Saturday,” he said.
The chairperson said those in the Lubombo region were quick to resolve the matter but the delay was in Manzini as by lunch time they were still receiving calls from concerned members.
He then apologised to their members for the inconvenience, saying the association had done all in its powers to ensure that liquor traders operated on Saturday.
“We also informed those that had been told to close that it was safe to open and if the police gave them problems they should inform us or call the deputy station commander to get clarity. We hope the police will also apologise on their behalf,” he said.
Chief Police Information and Communications Officer Superintendent Phindile Vilakati confirmed that police did close liquor traders both Friday and yesterday, saying this was because they had not received the gazette.
“There were some difficulties here and there yesterday and today as police had not received an instrument in the form of gazette but all was sorted,” she said.
Government Spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini said the regulations were effective as of Thursday and thus they were applicable. Asked to comment on the police closing the liquor outlets Dlamini referred questions to the police mouthpiece.
“The regulations are effective from 19 November and have been gazetted accordingly, hence they are applicable,” he said.
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