Agricultural union requests judicial commission on illegal trade in cigarettes
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Johannesburg - Agricultural union TLU South Africa has formally requested that President Cyril Ramaphosa set up a judicial commission to investigate the illegal trade in cigarettes, it said on Wednesday.
The sale of tobacco products has been barred since Ramaphosa's government imposed a nationwide lockdown from March 27 in a bid to contain transmissions of the Covid-19 virus and remains prohibited even as other restrictions have been progressively relaxed.
In a statement, TLU SA said an about-turn last month in which the government first said the ban on cigarette sales had been lifted, then days later said it remained in place, had fuelled speculation that members of the National Coronavirus Command Council were involved in the illegal cigarette trade that has thrived over the last two months.
"It is in the interest of South Africa and the persons involved to launch an urgent, decisive investigation to expose any illegal dealings to legal scrutiny," the union's president Louis Meintjes said.
"The ban on the sale of tobacco products serves no purpose since smokers turned to the black market to buy cigarettes. The only people to benefit from the situation, are those involved in the illegal trade of cigarettes. This is significantly damaging to the state fiscus."
On Sunday Ramaphosa said the country would shift to less stringent 'level 3' lockdown restrictions from June 1, allowing for more business and other activity, but said the sale of tobacco products would remain prohibited "due to the health risks associated with smoking".
Ramaphosa has dismissed suggestions that he was overruled by cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in last month's reversal, saying it was a collective decision.
African News Agency/ANA
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