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Opinions of Friday, 8 January 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

In Defence of Akpeteshie

The imposition of 20% tax on akpeteshie by Parliament last Friday will go down in history as one of the most unfortunate decisions taken at the first session of the Fifth Parliament of the Fourth Republic. The debate that preceded the imposition of the 20% tax on the locally brewed gin was superficially reduced to affordability and consumer regulation. While the minority was of the view that akpeteshie must be affordable enough for the ordinary Ghanaian who cannot afford exotic gins and whiskies, the majority justified the need to impose 20% tax on the commodity to discourage Ghanaians from excessive akpeteshie consumption. The akpeteshie tax was said to be heatedly debated, with some MPs personalizing it on religious values, but either side of the house failed to touch on the substantive issues. One does not have to be an ardent fan of akpeteshie to see the flaws in the imposition of the 20% tax on akpeteshie.

The history of akpeteshie is as old as the Ghanaian history itself and its demonization started when the white man set foot on the Gold Coast. The slave raiders’ whisky was sacred enough to entice traditional rulers dispatch men to capture slaves for to be shipped abroad. This could not have been possible if the local gin had not been demonized to look poisonous.

Later, when trade in commodities between Europeans and Africans replaced the slave trade, local gins became a threat to the market for foreign alcoholic beverages in Africa. The colonial masters therefore passed laws all over Africa prohibiting the production of local alcoholic beverages. In South Africa and parts of Africa, shanty towns where local alcoholic beverages enjoyed high patronage over foreign whiskies were often raided and producers and consumers could be jailed for marketing or patronizing locally brewed alcohol.

It is therefore very unfortunate that after fifty-two years of political independence laws should still be made discouraging the production and consumption of locally brewed alcoholic beverage. The argument that the move is to tame the consumption of alcohol is neither here nor there. This is because nothing has been done about the importation of the countless brands of foreign alcoholic beverages which equally threaten the health of Ghanaians, especially the youth. Ghana is not a sectarian nation and if Members of Parliament thought it prudent to protect the health of its citizens, it is not right to single out akpeteshie. The impression created here is that the other alcoholic beverages that are idolized on radio and televisions adverts are harmless, when in fact some of are more injurious to the health of consumers than akpeteshie.

Alcohol consumers stand greater risk of diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and liver and heart infections. The fertility of consumers is also at risk especially, when almost all alcohols advertised on air claim to be able to boost sexual performance. The amount of alcohol in akpeteshie may be greater than some beverages but all alcoholic beverages are slow killers and must not be encouraged.

It is also mind-boggling why nothing is being said about cigarette and tobacco when research has shown that it kills more alcohol. Besides, non-smokers in Ghana are faced with greater risks in Ghana than non-drinkers of alcohol because non-smokers are forced to inhale cigarette smoke. This is not so with alcohol. If increasing tax is said to be an effective way regulating drinking habit, then this should be extended to cigarette and all alcoholic beverages.

In this era of competition, what we should be doing as a nation is putting in measures that will modernize our crude products instead of taking steps to discourage their production. Local beverages such as pito, brukutu and akpeteshie could be given a scientific touch which would enable us to export them. This could give the nation foreign exchange and reduce our import of foreign drinks. Hastening to cripple their production is not the solution to the problem we intend to tackle. The colonial mentality has not helped and will never help us as a nation. A huge chunk of the Ministry of Defence budget goes into the importation of arms when experts in arms manufacturing are left secluded parts of the country to produce to feed armed robbers. Their expertise could be tapped to serve the nation in a proper way but we think, like akpeteshie, it is too risky for us we must avoid it.

As to whether the tax will have any meaningful effect of akpeteshie consumption still a riddle to unravel. The production is done in the bush one wonders who will be there to calculate the quantity and market value and impose the 20% tax. Ade pa na eton neho, they say. Akpeteshie is not advertised but one is sure to find it in very drinking spot competing favourabley with internally advertised drinks. It is found at naming ceremonies, plays an important function at marriage ceremonies and ends the human transition at funerals. Besides, worshipers of akpeteshie have a saying that for the palm tree to die, then cocoa should rather die. How will an imaginary tax component turn such people from consuming akpeteshie?

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni/www.maxighana.com [azureachebe2@yahoo.com]