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Poison so sweet? Case of uncertified liquor

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For people like Pensulo Solomon, the move by the authorities to bar uncertified liquor, or cheap liquor as widely referred to, that was being packaged in sachets and plastic bottles is a devastating blow.

His makeshift shabeen on the outskirts of Manase Township was drawing huge patronage because of such products.

It did not matter what time of the day it was, people who take alcohol were always lurking by, waiting to quench their thirst.

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A drink called Midori was a particular darling to those patronising the place.

It was therefore a bitter pill to swallow for Solomon when the Malawi Bureau of Standards announced the banning of cheap liquor such as Midori, which was being packaged in 5 litre plastic bottles. The reason singled out was that such products were not ascribing to set standards.

“It’s not right to ban one particular type of beer while others are being allowed to sell. Are they telling us that drinking is now restricted to only those who have more money? This is not on,” Solomon argued.

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He has all the right to complain as this was the only lucrative way he could think of earning an income. Since the cheap liquor was banned, his business has been struggling.

Well, be that as it may, one undeniable fact is that the cheap liquor was proving to be a menace to society, as it left in its wake a number of casualties, particularly those men who had consumed it on an empty stomach.

The cheap liquor was proving to be a nuisance, as even children of school going age were getting intoxicated by the product. Imagine a teacher busy delivering tutorials to a pupil whose brain is inebriated with alcohol; the effort will be wasted since it would be like hitting against a brick wall with the knowledge.

The Malawi Bureau of Standards -MBS and civil rights campaigners relentlessly fought against the continued packaging and supply of the product, and at one point even appeared to have been losing the battle, when companies responsible for such beverages obtained court injunctions.

Parents too were not amused with how the cheap alcohol was easily peddled on the streets, and children fell right into the trap, as some of them started showing queer behaviour once they had taken the stuff.

Not long ago, pictures went viral on social media of two boys and a girl (who was scantily dressed) believed to be students at one of the colleges in the heart of Blantyre, captured in an awkward position behind Reserve Bank of Malawi premises.

Why am I bringing this into the picture? Well, as it later turned out, the three who disgraced themselves in public, were allegedly acting under the influence of alcohol.

Granted, there are young people who are responsible enough to carefully watch the amount of alcohol they consume, but that has not been the case with those who are guzzling down cheap liquor such as Midori.

This is why there has been increased advocacy by the civil society for the banning of such drinks, which at one point seemed impossible as the manufacturers argued there is no solid proof that their products were bringing complications to the lives of the consumers.

The problem also caught the attention of the faith community, as some preachers took it upon themselves to warn their faithful on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, especially among the youth.

It was clear from the start that the manufacturers were not just

going to give in without a fight. They continuously sought court reprieve whenever the calls from those pushing for the banning of cheap liquor such as Midori grew louder.

And now the ‘ban cheap liquor’ campaigners are seemingly having the last laugh, as one after another, the companies have been forced to recall their products from the market.

The Competition and Fair Trading Commission has decided to slap 4 companies with a MK 5 million each for supplying harmful spirituous alcoholic products.

“If any liquor products will be found on the market, the commission will impose another fine to the offending companies,” reads the statement in part, signed by CFTC Chairperson Daniel Dunga.

Without wanting to tow a particular line on the subject, what the issue has exposed is that business entities are at times allowed to get away when they contravene rules and guidelines (in this case, poor packaging of the product and careless distribution, even to children under the age of 18).

On the other hand, it means Malawi is still lagging behind in as far as job creation, by both public and private sector companies, is concerned.

People like Solomoni, instead of poisoning young minds with cheap liquor, should have found jobs, even as casual labourers, in new companies and those that, by now, should have set up branches and factories in all places across the country.

But this, to this day, remains wishful thinking as both public and private sector organisations are struggling to survive because of the unpredictable economy. The cost of borrowing remains high, power outages are a common feature and nothing seems to be working.

In the meantime, Pensulo will have no choice but to explore other alternatives that can help rejuvenate his enterprise. Uncertified or cheap liquor is definitely a no go zone.

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