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Lusaka, Zambia: Lusaka City Council - Civic Centre - Independence Avenue - photo by M.Torres

Back laws with enforcement

THE Lusaka City Council is in the process of reviewing by-laws to reduce the time permissible for public drinking of alcohol.
The proposal is that instead of the current 10:00 hours to 22:00 hours, the time should be limited to between 16:00 hours and 22:00 hours.
This proposal deserves support and speedy implementation because a lot of time and resources are misplaced in bars and taverns.
But there is also need to ensure that there is the muscle to enforce the law.
The local authority reckons that the measure will help most residents to channel their energies and financial resources on more productive things.
Bar owners may not quite agree with this proposal, but Zambia has to look at the bigger or broader picture to determine what is collectively better for the country.
Alcohol is an intoxicating drink and most of those who take it aim to get drunk.
It does not need any scientific proof to show that a person in a drunken stupor cannot perform normally when it comes to work.
Therefore, it is expected that when bars and other drinking places open as early as 09.00 hours, then a large portion of the population becomes unproductive.
As a result, the country has a population of people who are contributing less or nothing in producing the country’s goods and services.
Some may argue that the money they spend is theirs and they should not be told on how to spend their hard-earned income.
They could also contend that it is not always that people get to bars to get drunk.
There is no dispute about that. Indeed it is their money and it is true that beer, for some, is a social drink shared over lively discussions.
It is, however, also true that there are many instances when a social gathering leads to misuse of money. The bigger challenge is that some of the money could be better spent.
In the same vein, the local authority has issued a veiled threat to close down over 100 bars for noise pollution.
There appears to be unregulated or non-enforcement of laws regarding beer trading.
This has in turn adversely affected the youths in all corners of our country, with Lusaka being the chief culprit.
Bars in townships of Lusaka open as early as 07:00 hours.
In fact some bars do not close at all. Little wonder people, especially youths, are perpetually drunk.
That is why the proposal to enact such a by-law is long overdue and a right direction.
Elsewhere, bars or nightclubs open only between 15:00 hours to 23:00 hours. Or at least this is how it should be, but we all know that many stay open until the last client leaves, whatever that time is.
In Zambia, anyone can open a bar anywhere. It has become normal for bars to operate in residential areas, which were planned to be dwelling places.
This is disturbing to families living in these areas. The council needs, however, to do it systematically, especially that it could have issued liquor licences for these places to operate.
If achieved, the by-law will help refocus the direction of not just the youths but all who indulge in the abuse of alcohol.
What is needed is regulation. What time should a liquor store operate, what time should a pub operate, and what time should a nightclub or disco operate?
All these times are already in place, but enforcement is poor.
Regulation is one of the devices authorities may use to enforce a desired form of behaviour under public health practices.
Alcohol sales in supermarkets have restricted hours and many of these outlets are abiding by this regulation.
But what is the point of doing so when there are so many other liquor outlets that are virtually open the whole day?
Regulation should be for all players in the sector. So enforcement is most essential in efforts to achieve the goal to curb alcohol abuse.
Alcohol misuse is a leading contributor to mental cases. It is on record that the number of alcohol-related admissions at Chainama
Hills Hospital rehabilitation centre is high. So there is every reason to support any effort to curb abuse.
The key to achieving this, however, may not necessarily be reducing the hours for bars staying open, but rather enforcing the laws already in place.
For instance, we all know that underage patronising of bars is rife, yet enforcement is sporadic and ineffective.
So even as this good proposal is being tabled, the council should ensure that it also tackles its ability to effectively enforce its laws.