- Jackson Mthembu has ruled out any negotiations with tobacco companies
- He said the ban would remain and negotiations were pointless
- Tobacco companies have threatened to take the government to court unless they lift the ban on cigarette sales
Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu has ended any speculation that the government and cigarette companies are working towards an agreement to allow the sale of tobacco products.
The government is remaining firm in its resolve to maintain the ban on cigarettes, even ruling out any mediation efforts, a clause in the lockdown policy to avoid court cases.
Briefly.co.za learned that Mthembu said that negotiations were pointless because there was nothing to discuss.
"We are not going to change our approach," he said. "There is no possibility of a midway agreement that accommodates them and us. We believe that it is the right thing to do. I don't see any of us agreeing on the measures the other party has taken.
"We will make our case in court. We believe we have very good reasons."
Justice minister Ronald Lamola reiterated what Methembu had said. There were many other issues to do with the lockdown that could be dealt with through mediation but the sale of cigarettes was not one of them.
"The cigarettes matter will depend on the willingness of the parties to mediate, but it does look like something that will end up in the courts," he said.
"We are not taking away the rights of anyone to go to court; we are just saying that, where it is possible for the parties involved to sit down and mediate, it will save costs for everyone."
Tobacco giant British American Tobacco (BAT) has issued co-operative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma an ultimatum to undo the ban by Monday or they will see them in court.
BAT had not submitted comments to Parliament because President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced that cigarette sales would resume. Ramaphosa's announcement was based on advice from the national command council according to Times Live.
However, cabinet overruled the decision based on comments it had received..
"There were arguments that said we should bear in mind the illicit trade. The majority - including the president - agreed that we must not continue with the sale."
Ebrahim Patel, minister of trade & industry said that issues surrounding health were paramount.
"When we went into the pandemic, we had to take the decision of what is going to be the key driver and we said it would be considerations of health and the risks," he said.
Earlier this week, Briefly.co.za reported that Tito Mboweni publicly stated that he did not support the ban on cigarette sales.
The lockdown has cost the government R1.5bn in tax revenue through the ban on alcohol and cigarettes according to SARS commissioner Edward Kieswetter.
Mboweni told Parliament in a virtual meeting that if it were up to him, he would have resumed the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.
“I didn't like the continuous ban on tobacco and alcohol but I lost the debate and therefore I have to toe the line,” Mboweni told MPs from the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
“I know I'm losing a lot of revenue in the middle of being under pressure to spend but nevertheless that's a decision of cabinet and I have to fall in line if want to (continue being) a member of the executive. If you can't fall in line you must leave, so one has to fall in line in that regard.”
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