MP threatened about sugar tax

The chairperson of the Finance Standing Committee of Parliament has advised that he has encountered threats to sink the sugary drinks tax.

Yunus Carrim, a Member of the National Assembly (MP) said he received threats in November on the proposed legislation from industry-connected people, who instructed him to drop the Bill on the sugar tax that has already been approved by the House.

“I was phoned one evening and told to drop the Bill. Wherever this tax has been introduced in the world, there have been stories about industry offering bribes to MPs and creating front organisations pretending to be supporting workers rights when they oppose the tax and a whole variety of measures – this has happened in smaller measures here,” said Yunus.

The former Communications Minister said he was contacted three times by people linked to the industry.

“They have even threatened the chair, saying they will take this to the ANC National Executive Committee. But I say this Bill was brought forward by the Cabinet and I want to congratulate the Cabinet for having the bravery and the courage to take up this Bill,” he said.

Yunus said the current Bill was the result of immense negotiations, with Treasury dropping its initial plan for a 20 per cent tax to 11 per cent.

Another MP said that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were ‘silent killers’ that had taken over from HIV and Tuberculosis, and that diets high in sugar were driving NCDs. In 2015 alone, 55 per cent of deaths were from NCDs while just over 33 per cent were from communicable diseases.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ MP, Elsabe Ntlangwini, has called on government to ‘tax sugar to the max’. The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa said his party supported the tax but mentioned that it was not a simple approach to the problem.

“It must be part and parcel of an education campaign about obesity and diabetes. Our sugar consumption is at an all-time high,” said Mkhuleko.

The Democratic Alliance and Cope did not support the tax, which has been renamed a ‘health promotion levy’.

In countries such as Mexico, activists who support sugary drinks taxes have been harassed, threatened and even had their offices bugged.

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Bathabile Msomi

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