JOHANNESBURG - Pick n Pay chairperson Gareth Ackerman yesterday called on government to review its decision to ban alcohol and tobacco sales in South Africa charging that it should rely on pragmatic persuasion rather than control.
Ackerman said the government needed to take the business community into its confidence when it came to decision-making.
He said the economy could not afford poorly made or poorly explained decisions. “They create confusion and cynicism and erode the togetherness on which we all depend,” said Ackerman, adding that he was highlighting the ban on tobacco and alcohol sales not because they hurt the group’s sales and cash flow - although it was true that they did - but because of the cynicism they created.
“I focus on it because - more than any other decision taken by the government during this pandemic - these prohibitions risk creating cynicism and division that we cannot afford.”
Ackerman told Pick * Pay shareholders during the group’s annual general meeting that South Africa was virtually the only country in the world that had banned the sale of these products during the pandemic.
He said there has been no explanation on why South Africa was right and the rest of the world wrong.
Tobacco sales have been prohibited throughout the lockdown, which began in March, while the alcohol ban was relaxed on June 1 and reintroduced on July 12.
Ackerman said tobacco and liquor remained readily available on the black market. “So the policy achieves no end other than to fuel illegal activity which ignores any regulatory safeguards and contributes not a single cent to the beleaguered tax service, which desperately needs the revenue for the state to meet its socio-economic obligations,” said Ackerman.
“I implore the government to review its decision, and to look at the issue in the spirit of responsibility and togetherness that the president has so rightly upheld.”
Ackerman said that, under the circumstances, managing the economic recovery would require a great deal of finesse and extraordinary focus for the rapid implementation of the reforms to which the government had already committed.
“The government will have to be far more deft in getting the economy back on its feet. It will have to recognise its limitations and withdraw from controls it has put in place, play to its strengths and allow citizens and the private sector to play to theirs, unleashing the creative energy of the whole society,” said Ackerman.
“We have to learn to live with the virus, while we grow the economy, and for this to happen the government will have to rely more on persuasion and co-operation, and less on control. We must harness the energy and innovation of all South Africans, with a focus on critical reinvigoration, not over-regulation.”
Ackerman said Pick * Pay chief executive Richard Brasher, who had planned to announce his retirement from Pick * Pay at the company’s annual results in May, elected to roll up his sleeves and help the group to navigate this crisis.
“We had started the process to find his successor in good time. As with so much else, Covid-19 has disrupted this process. But we are making progress and will make an announcement when we are ready to do so,” said Ackerman.