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New Gauteng Liquor Board about to be selected – but identity of candidates one of many mysteries

New Gauteng Liquor Board about to be selected – but identity of candidates one of many mysteries
The Gauteng Liquor Board is a statutory structure serving the people of the province and underpinned financially, in part at least, by public funds. (Photo: iStock)

The Gauteng Liquor Board (GLB) is a statutory structure serving the people of the province and underpinned financially, in part at least, by public funds. It makes decisions that can have a profound impact on the lives of those who apply for licences and those who live in the vicinity of liquor outlets. Yet most people in Gauteng are not aware that there has been a call for the nomination of candidates to serve on the GLB.

Did you know that 31 July 2023 was the closing date for the nomination of candidates to serve on the Gauteng Liquor Board (GLB) for the next five years? Probably not. The call for nominations was advertised in the Sunday Times on 23 July 2023. It’s unlikely many people saw the ad. Also, was eight days really enough time to act on this call? 

Whoever serves on the board has a weighty responsibility to consider carefully the implications of what they decide, both for liquor licence applicants and for the communities in which potentially licensed premises are to be located. So, choosing board members should neither be rushed nor undertaken superficially. 

We are alcohol harm reduction activists and so are more aware than most people of what is happening in the liquor licensing space – and we didn’t know about the call until we saw the ad in the Sunday Times

Was it in other papers? We don’t know. 

But we do know that, because of a lack of interest or money or both, most people in the province don’t read newspapers. What are the odds, therefore, of them hearing about the call, especially if no other channels of communication were used to reach them?

So, we decided to see if we could find the information on any of those other channels. 

A quick search of Facebook reveals that there is no official GLB page. There is this one that is “unofficial”, but it has no posts anyway.

The Facebook page of the GLB

On X (formerly known as Twitter), the GLB similarly has no presence. 

Scrolling through the messages for the month of July on the X page of the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG), we could find no reference to the call for nominations for the GLB (nor for the boards of the Gauteng Tourism Authority and the Gauteng Enterprise Propellor, nominations for which appeared with the GLB call). 

It didn’t feature on the X/Twitter page of the Gauteng Department of Economic Development (GDED) either. 

Instagram, a platform very popular with young people, had nothing related to the notice. 

The GLB doesn’t have a dedicated website of its own, unlike its counterparts in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and in Free State and Mpumalanga, each of which has a shared website with their provincial gambling boards. 

So, we turned to the GPG website, but found nothing there either. 

The GDED doesn’t have its own website. However, the advertisement required submissions to be sent to the Gauteng Enterprise Propellor, which resides in the GDED. They do have a website, but the calls weren’t publicised there either. 

A Google search threw up nothing, so we finally went to the Government Printing Works (GPW) website which, from an access to information perspective, is to be commended. 

In pre-internet days, the only way to get a Government Gazette was either to subscribe to it and have it delivered by post or to find it in a library. Today, anyone with a laptop or cellphone (and data) can go to the GPW site and download all national and provincial gazettes in PDF format at no cost. A great example of a government agency providing free, democratic access to information for all.

On the GPW website, we found that the three calls for nominations were indeed published in a Gauteng Provincial Gazette on 19 July 2023. But who trawls the GPW website regularly on the off-chance that there might be a notice calling for nominations to the GLB? How many people even know the GPW exists and has a free and accessible website?

We aren’t able to say whether radio and TV were used to promote interest in the nomination process. Radio, particularly community radio, can be an important vehicle for reaching people, though it does have its limitations – cost, number of times a message is aired per day, when it is aired, choosing the right station, the ephemeral nature of broadcasting and so on.  

The bottom line is this. The majority of people in Gauteng are not aware that there has been a call for the nomination of candidates to serve on the Gauteng Liquor Board, a statutory structure serving the people of the province and underpinned financially, at least in part, by public funds. 

This board makes decisions that can have a profound impact on the lives of those who apply for licences and of people in communities across the province who live in the vicinity of licensed liquor outlets. 

But it’s not just the nomination call that is of concern. 

Opaque membership and operations

As we have indicated, the GLB doesn’t have a website, so it is very difficult for a member of the public to find out who is on the board (and why); what the board does; how it works; what its decisions are; what informs its decisions; what the rights of the public are in relation to liquor licensing; the names and locations of licensed liquor outlets in the province; how to complain about problematic liquor outlets (including those that are not licensed); and, indeed, anything else of importance related to the GLB and its mandate.

The Gauteng Liquor Act (2 of 2003), which provides for the establishment of the GLB, doesn’t provide answers to most of those questions. This is why it is so important for the GDED and the GLB to ensure that the public has access to all the information they need to understand and be able to exercise their rights concerning the sale and consumption of alcohol in their neighbourhoods. 

Nationally, the Liquor Act (59 of 2003) says explicitly (and in this order) that the purpose of the Act is: 

(a) To reduce the socio-economic and other costs of alcohol abuse and 

(b) To promote the development of a responsible and sustainable liquor industry

The Gauteng Liquor Act, which is intended to be aligned (broadly) to the national Liquor Act, describes its purpose as being, inter alia, “to provide for the control of the retail sale and supply of liquor within the Gauteng Province; to regulate applications for licences and to provide for public notification and participation; to provide for general matters such as enforcement procedures; and to provide for matters connected therewith.”

The Gauteng Liquor Act is, therefore, not as explicit as the national Liquor Act in acknowledging the need both to reduce the socioeconomic harm caused by liquor and to promote the industry. 

However, it does acknowledge the need for liquor to be controlled, allow for the enforcement of whatever controls are in place, and require the public to be notified and its participation in the licensing process to be facilitated.

Right now, it’s nigh impossible to find out who is on the Gauteng Liquor Board. Once this new board has been elected – through an opaque process that is not open to the public – we will not know who the new members are either, unless there is a once-off announcement in the media and/or a Government Gazette. 

Furthermore, the little information on liquor licensing available on the GPG website is aimed exclusively at those who are applying for licences or who have licences. There is nothing which facilitates the right of members of the public to object to liquor licence applications and to take action against outlets whose operators and/or patrons behave in an antisocial manner. 

The result is that most liquor licence applications are not opposed and, once their licences have been awarded, many operators don’t feel obliged to run their outlets in a way that recognises the rights of the people in the community around them. 

How can the situation be corrected? 

For starters, we call on the GDED, in particular the MEC for Economic Development who appoints the Gauteng Liquor Board, to reopen the nomination process. 

This time around, the GDED should ensure that as many people in the province as possible know about the call for nominations and the functions of the GLB, and that they have sufficient time to consider whether and who to nominate. 

In addition, we would propose that candidates be interviewed publicly so that the people of Gauteng can see and understand the criteria for selection and the rationale behind the decision on who to appoint. It is, after all, important that all stakeholders have trust in the board and in its ability to carry out its duties fairly and equitably. 

Furthermore, we call on the MEC and the CEO of the GLB to take urgent steps to correct the inadequate, inequitable availability of information regarding liquor licensing in the province. 

The public has a constitutional and legislated right to access information and to be able to act on the basis of that information, particularly if it involves their right to act in defence of their health, safety and wellbeing and that of their families and communities. 

We believe strongly that the GLB should have its own website, providing enabling information to members of the public and liquor traders alike. 

The board should also be using different social media platforms to continuously remind people of their rights and how to exercise them. 

It should be operating in a transparent, accessible and accountable manner, giving all stakeholders the confidence that it is taking their concerns and interests into consideration in everything it does.

We live in a time in which making information available to as many people as possible – quickly, easily, accessibly and consistently – is eminently achievable. It is also a constitutional and legal requirement to make information available to the public. 

Therefore, what we are asking for is not excessive or unreasonable. There is, thus, no reason for the people of Gauteng to accept anything less. DM/MC

Maurice Smithers is chair of the Kensington Community Association (KCA), Shaheda Omar is CEO of the Teddy Bear Foundation (TBF) and Rev Tsepo Matubatuba is chair of the Yeoville Bellevue Ratepayers’ Association (YBRA).

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