Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. File picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Pretoria - A North Gauteng High Court judge has asked the public protector to “look into the malfunctioning” of the Department of Trade and Industry when dealing with liquor licences. Also, “the role of the State attorney wasting taxpayers’ money when it comes to these cases being brought to court”.

Judge Piet Ebersohn gave the office of the Minister of Trade and Industry and National Liquor Authority a tongue-lashing in a judgment on the issuing of liquor licences.

Failure by the department to speedily decide on whether or not to issue liquor licences “rests squarely” on the shoulders of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies as head of this department, he said. The department also appointed costly senior advocates to fight its losing battle – all at the expense of taxpayers.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was asked to probe the department, which is failing the public… yet when the public approach the courts to try to force the liquor authority to issue licences, the same old arguments are advanced, which had been rejected by the courts for years, Judge Ebersohn said.

Thus, valuable court time was taken up and the liquor industry and economy suffered harm.

The judgment was sparked by four companies - Rio Grande Beverage Industries, Berkshaw Properties, Ebotse Trading 46 and Segaetsho Tavern Warehouse. They applied for liquor licences nearly two years ago. Shortly before the judgment, the government eventually issued all four with licences. The judge, however, slapped the government with a punitive costs order.

Their case is one of many brought to the court’s attention by advocate Linda Pretorius. Judge Ebersohn ordered that her written arguments submitted to court on the liquor authority also be forwarded to the public protector’s office.

“Numerous similar applications came, most disturbingly, before this court in the past. On one occasion 32 cases, all based on the undue delay by the respondents, were dealt with by this court on one day.”

On occasion, the judge said, counsel for the liquor authority argued the applications had been disposed of and permits typed, but the (former) chairperson of the liquor board “simply did not pitch” to sign the permits, saying “her life was too busy” as she served on too many governmental boards.

The judge said the liquor authority had to deal with applications within a reasonable time frame.

All the applicants in this case submitted their applications in 2012 but simply did not receive a reply from the department. Judge Ebersohn remarked that the way in which the respondents operated and delayed numerous applications, was a travesty of justice and scandalous.

“Instead of telling the respondents to hurry up and do their job, the State attorney, at the expense of taxpayers, opposes the (court) applications.”

The delays have been going on for years and it seems to be getting worse, the judge said.

Hopefully a punitive costs order against the State would “quickly cure” the delays in the department and prevent the State attorney from further wasting taxpayers’ money.

Pretoria News