Political instability ‘sabotaged’ alcohol policy

Political instability ‘sabotaged’ alcohol policy

MASERU – POLITICAL instability has ‘sabotaged’ the finalisation of the national alcohol policy new has been in the marking for the past three year.  This is according to Blue Cross Society, an advocacy group that has been pushing the policy. Speaking at a workshop to discuss the Alcohol (Draft) Policy in Maseru on Tuesday, the Blue Cross Advocacy Officer ’Masebueng Majara said the political situation has disrupted the policy’s progress.

“When the draft was done in 2013 it was during the three party coalition government, and the then Deputy Minister of Health (Dr Nthabiseng Mokoae) had already written a cabinet memo but the government did not live long enough to see the draft discussed,” Majara said. “When the seven-party coalition government took over everything changed. The priorities of these governments are different, now we have to work hard to lobby for this policy in this government.”  The policy seeks to reduce alcohol consumption and abuse, especially among youths.  Majara said many start drinking at an early stage of around 12 and 13 years.  “Research has shown that full development of the brain is acquired at the age of 25 and research has as well shown that too much drinking of alcohol has mental effects and now if someone starts drinking at such a tender age by the time this individual turns 25 years three-quarters of his brain is damaged,” Majara said. The policy suggests that the age restriction to sell alcohol and buy alcohol should be 21 and not 18 years.

It further suggests that bars should be at least half a kilometre from schools, churches, health centres, taxi ranks and sporting facilities. It also seeks to limit alcohol advertisements in the mainstream media. Such adverts should be accompanied by those promoting soberness.  The policy also entails the legal enforcement of trading hours for alcohol selling outlets.  “Opening and closing hours of licenced beer outlets should be regulated legally and if one does not abide by them, the court should interfere. If alcohol is sold 24-hours then, there will never be a time when ‘people’ are sober and there will never be a time when they work towards the development of the country,” Majara said. “What kind of future leaders are we looking at if youngsters are given an opportunity to start drinking from that tender age?” she said. Majara said once one is an addict, “their life revolves around alcohol, it becomes their daily need and they depend on it to survive”.

‘‘We are concerned with how some operators are brewing their traditional brands- boiling batteries and using socks to quickly ferment beer unaware that this is harmful. This can cause cancer,’’ Majara said.  She cited the Public Health Order, Road Traffic Act and the Alcohol Licencing Act as examples of laws that should be revamped. “We encourage that in the Road Traffic Act, the fines for drinking and driving should be increased. The alcohol blood content of 0.5 percent has to be reassessed because a person in that state is not in a condition to travel and he needs to rest,” Majara said.  “The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the alcohol blood content should be 0.05 percent. We are way above these standards,” she said.   The Blue Cross is however worried that the Lesotho’s biggest player, Maluti Mountain Brewery was not properly consulted when the policy was written.  Majara said when the first draft was made in 2007 the MMB had a great influence in it and as a result its aims were biased towards the company. “Our mission is not to shut down bars and the brewery, our mission is to promote responsible drinking and to have laws that protect the buyer, the seller and the rest of the community affected by the alcohol consumption and selling.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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