Editor's Comment In focus

Punish erring bar, nightclub owners

LOCAL authorities have a duty to ensure that the liquor trading sub-sector operates within the standards set by the law.
Bars, nightclubs and bottle stores should only be allowed to operate if they have valid liquor trading licences.
They must meet certain standards of sanitation and must have adequate fire escape exits in case of an emergency.
Unfortunately, these standards and requirements are rarely adhered to.
Most bars have been operating on expired licences and do not have clean toilets for their patrons.
In many cases the toilets do not have water and are not regularly cleaned.
Some bars do not even have any toilet at all.
Patrons have to walk to other buildings or help themselves outside the bar.
This puts the health of the customers at risk.
But the law has enough provisions that the local authorities can invoke to deal with erring bar and nightclub owners.
It is the enforcement of the law that has been a one-off operation in most cases.
We therefore commend the Lusaka City Council (LCC) for rejecting 72 liquor licence applications citing poor sanitation at bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Town clerk Alex Mwansa warned that the council will continue carrying out inspections of bars, restaurants and nightclubs to check on sanitation facilities before issuing new or renewing old licences.
This is encouraging.
However, the rejection of applications or refusal to renew expired licences seems to have had little effect on the erring bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
This is because there have been few or no follow-ups at all when licences are not renewed or withdrawn for failure to comply with the law.
In many cases the bars that have had their licences rejected or withdrawn have continued operating illegally.
In Lusaka, for example, how many of those bars operating at markets and in townships have valid licences?
Even when some of them have been closed for flouting the conditions of their licences they have reopened the next day without bothering to rectify the shortcomings.
We urge the LCC not to relent in its efforts to restore sanity in liquor trade.
It is encouraging to learn that the council has embarked on an exercise aimed at closing down bars, restaurants and nightclubs operating below the minimum health standards.
Our appeal to the council is that it should follow the closures up with monitoring to ensure the affected facilities do not illegally re-open for business.
We are also happy that the council is clamping down on bars and nightclubs admitting underage patrons.
The owners of these facilities do not seem to care about the consequences of allowing minors to patronise their businesses.
This law has been in force for decades, but the liquor traders are only interested in making money at the expense of the future of these young people.
Local authorities countrywide have a duty to enforce these laws in the interest of the nation.
Those flouting the ‘no admittance below the age of 18’ prohibition should be enforced to the letter.
Those who will be found wanting should be taken to court and have their businesses permanently closed as a deterrent.
As for Lusaka the council can make full use of the fast-track court that has proved effective in bringing undisciplined motorists back into line.
The fast-track court should be extended to erring bar, restaurant and nightclub owners.
The same fate that has been befalling the undisciplined motorists who have been found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol should befall them.
Maybe they will learn to respect the law.

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