Consumer Goods Council of South Africa Co-Chair Gareth Ackerman Calls for Constant Collaboration Between Government and Business to Foster Growth

The co-chair of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) and Pick n Pay chairman, Gareth Ackerman speaking at the virtual Consumer Goods Council of SA Summit today lauded the retail and manufacturing industries for their resilience and commitment during the trying times brought about by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ackerman said the Covid-19 pandemic has further emphasised the importance of closer collaboration between government and the business sector to grow the economy. The pandemic has also highlighted the crucial role of the consumer goods sector in ensuring that people had access to basic goods and food security during the various stages of the lockdown.

Ackerman said government must focus on what it is good at, which is policy formulation and certainty thus creating an enabling environment for the business sector to invest, grow and create jobs with limited government intervention.

He said some of the government’s decisions during the national lockdown had not been well thought-out, citing the ban the sale of tobacco products and liquor which caused more harm to the economy. What remains of particular concern is government’s unilateral decision to restrict the sale of liquor products for off-site consumption to only between Monday to Friday, while those selling liquor for on-site consumption are permitted to trade throughout the weekend. This decision has put both viability and jobs at risk. Some of the unintended consequences of the restrictions on the sale of liquor products is the significant financial burden on independent traders who happen to be SMEs; the entrenchment of the illicit alcohol market and the impact on the tourism industry.

“I think there were some poor policy decisions taken by the government, especially banning tobacco and keeping it banned for so long. There was no logical reason, and the decisions caused a lot of damage to the government,” Ackerman said. He said people could accept the reasons for the ban if there was transparency in why the ban was necessary, he said.

Ackerman also criticised the corruption involving COVID-19 relief funds, saying this had upset many people. “So many people put their hands in the till, and this has left a bad taste in the mouths of people because some of the powers that be helped themselves to what was supposed to help people. This has really upset consumers and government lost its moral high ground created by the Presidents initial COVID-19 speech. These issues get in the way of clear policy formulation and direction,” he said.

He said efforts should be made to encourage the creation of small businesses which would assist in employment creation. “There are enormous opportunities for SMEs and people want to shop local and buy goods close to where they live. This is not about banning foreign traders which I believe is wrong, but more about encouraging small businesses to open and get involved in the supply of goods. A consumer-friendly regulatory framework to create economic growth and jobs, must be set,” said Ackerman.

“We need small scale producers to grow food and supply fresh produce directly to consumers. We need entrepreneurs who can take risk and the banking and NGO financing sector to look at creative ways of providing finance. The huge unemployment is fertile ground and necessitates creative ways of how people can earn money. Considering the current state of the economy we are not going to create jobs quickly and in the foreseeable future. Therefore, we need to help people to start their own businesses and to help them make those businesses sustainable”, Ackerman said.

He said the consumer goods sector in South Africa has committed at both local and international level to reduce food waste in the country. Ackerman said it was “criminal” that up to 30% of food produced in the country was wasted annually yet estimates showed that up to 14 million people went to bed hungry every night and 20 million were food insecure.

“It is criminal, and we need to fix that from a poverty relief waste point of view, and also protect the environment as food wasted rots and creates damaging greenhouse gasses as well as a number of other environmental issues,” Ackerman said.

He also said food packaging continues to be a major issue, particularly given concerns over the impact of plastics on the environment. Covid-19 has moved consumers back to purchasing food packaged. “We will have to look how we package food in the future so that it is good quality and not contaminated whilst dealing with the plastic reduction issue”, concluded Ackerman.

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