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WHY WE ALLOWED ALCOHOL IN - BORDER OFFICERS

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MBABANE – “We allow alcohol into the country.” This statement was made by customs officers stationed at the Ngwenya Border Gate. They mentioned that tonnes of alcohol had been allowed into the country and continued to be cleared for importation.


The officers said whenever declarations had not been queried, they allowed those goods into the country, including alcohol which was not illegal.
According to the officers, they had not received any communication from government or anyone to stop any alcohol imports.
The assertion by the customs officers has proven true as some of the establishments, including Matata Tops, also confirmed to have received their stock over the weekend.


Deliveries


Truckloads of liquor from South Africa entered the country through the Oshoek Border Gate, with stock worth millions of Emalangeni. Information gathered was that deliveries were made in various outlets in the country including Mbabane Tops at Spar, Manzini Tops and Ezulwini.
These outlets are owned by Senator Tony Sibandze and Anita Dlamini respectively. There are other outlets which received alcohol deliveries, but will not be named as they could not be reached for comment yesterday.


Sibandze, in an interview, stated that relevant government structures were informed about all matters regarding the deliveries.
The senator said all Tops stores in the country received deliveries from their head office in South Africa.
Sibandze said the stock was in respect of deals (price negotiations and orders) made prior to the lockdown in SA.


“Due to the pronouncement by SA president to relax the lockdown, the Spar head office got approval to send the stock to their Tops stores,” said the senator.
He said the stock was declared at the border gate with Customs and the necessary value added tax and duties were paid.
Sibandze said the stock was then cleared into the country in broad daylight, hence the deliveries were made during the day. 


Meanwhile, he said the COVID-19 regulations addressed the issue of local distribution and manufacturing. He stated that importing alcohol was not a breach of the regulations because the stock will not be sold until government made the relevant  pronouncement in the future. “The decision not to sell the stock is not because there was anything wrong done but we are responsible at Tops,” he said.


Trade


He said social distancing outside the stores when they sold alcohol was a concern to management, hence the decision not to open for trade.
On the other hand, the Matata Tops owner in Big Bend, Dlamini, confirmed that she also received her stock on Saturday, adding that those were orders which were placed before the lockdown was effected.


She explained that when South Africa entered the level three stage of the lockdown and eased restrictions on alcohol, they released the stock as it had been ordered. “We did not know that by receiving the stock, we were breaking government rules,” Dlamini said.
She said

the goods were rightfully declared at the border gate and everything was done by the book.
Following the recent importation of alcoholic beverages, the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Trade has deployed security officers and inspectors to ensure that no illegal distribution of liquor takes place.


According to Minister Manqoba Khumalo, inspections would also involve the checking of the manufacturing date to ensure bottle stores that were still in operation were not selling illegally distributed liquor.


Action


Khumalo said the ministry would take appropriate action against those found to be violating the rules.
Further, he advised all outlets that received liquor from neighbouring countries in the past three days to desist from selling their stock until government approved the manufacturing and distribution of liquor.


The minister said they were currently in engagement with Eswatini Revenue Authority (SRA) to forge a way forward on how best they could consistently implement the COVID-19 guidelines.
Khumalo said they were investigating how the liquor was imported in defiance of the partial lockdown measures.


He said they had already engaged Customs officials to alert them to be on the lookout for such illegal activity. Khumalo said the ministry received disturbing reports of the importation of liquor into the country, where a large consignment made its way into the kingdom last Friday.


“The ministry wishes to remind liquor suppliers that the manufacturing, distribution and wholesaling of liquor remains banned in Eswatini,” said the minister.

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