C&A Friedlander Attorneys

Written by Solly Epstein

I stand in awe of present-day technological advances. This is understandable, considering I was admitted as an attorney in June 1968.

At the time I commenced practice, the latest marvel was the Olivetti mechanical bookkeeping machine, which did away with the need to record transactions in longhand. There were no computers, diarising was done by cards in tickler boxes, and secretaries used the latest golf ball typewriters. If they made a mistake in the last line of a page, they had to tear up the page and start over again. Copies were made using carbon paper, or for multiple copies, the document was typed onto a wax sheet and then duplicated using a hand-operated Roneo machine. Photocopiers were just introduced, but the drawback was that they copied onto photographic paper rolls and the pages tended to be glossy and would curl up. I appeared before the National Liquor Board in Pretoria and listened while a colleague, at the request of the Chairman, explained how fax machines worked and why the faxed documents should be accepted by the board. All he was able to say was that you had to put the document into a machine in Cape Town, press a button, and a copy would appear on a machine in Pretoria. Means of speedy communication included the telegram, the ticker tape and only much later, the facsimile. The telephone was a fixed installation anchored to your desk and was not about to go anywhere.

For these reasons, I am highly impressed by the National Liquor Authority’s recently introduced online system for liquor applications and renewals of registrations for the manufacture and/or distribution of liquor.

The system enables liquor wholesalers to apply for and/or renew their registrations online. The project commenced with the migration of data from the manual system (RG) to the online system (CMS). This process was completed in respect of all registrations that had been compliant for the previous 24 months. In order to use the new system, registrants or their representatives, have to register as users and obtain passwords. The NLA captures all the data from the registration, migrates the registration to CMS, and issues the registration with a new reference number (REF). Some registrants operate from a number of sites (referred to as “depots” in the trade). Each site is issued with a reference number (REF) linked to the RG or main registration.

When a registration becomes due for renewal, the system generates an e-mail advising the registrant to go online and to commence the renewal process.

The system of renewal works well, provided that, and I stress, the documents uploaded are correct. If not, the system will reject the incorrect document and advise the registrant that the document has “failed verification”. Unless the registrant can remedy the error immediately, a long and tedious correspondence with the NLA follows. The registrant is required to supply the information requested, upload the documents listed, and pay the annual renewal fee, which is calculated on a sliding scale based on the turnover of the business. The process is designed to take 90 days, but in practice, takes far less time. In some cases – a matter of days. The processing time is calculated from the day on which the final outstanding document is received. Missing or incorrect documents will retard the process.

The following documents must be uploaded:

  1. Projected annual turnover, supported by the annual financial statement.
  2. Certified copies of the SAPS clearances for natural persons.
  3. Proof of membership of an organisation combating alcohol abuse.
  4. Accredited verification certificate issued in terms of the B-BBEE Act or an affidavit if the turnover of the business is less than R15m per annum.
  5. Certified copies of company registration documents and proof of shareholding of each shareholder.
  6. Certified copies of identity documents of the registrant or, in the case of a company, the directors and shareholders.

The following information must be provided:

  1. Number of employees.
  2. Volume of beer, wine and spirits manufactured and/or sold.
  3. Number of new entrants to the industry promoted.
  4. Number of shareholders.
  5. % Black ownership.
  6. % Black women ownership.
  7. % Foreign ownership.
  8. Number of entities acquired in the past year.
  9. Financial interests in the liquor trade acquired in the past year.
  10. Number of entities registered with NLA.
  11. Number of provincial liquor licences held.
  12. BEE level.
  13. Contribution in rands made to combat alcohol abuse.
  14. Actual annual turnover.

It must be noted that in addition to the above, the Act allows the NLA to request any information or document it deems necessary.

Form NLA 8, which is issued upon registration, may further require the registrant to annually lodge additional documents, e.g. zoning certificates of registered sites, proof of B-BBEE compliance, etc.

When the upload is complete, the system will issue an e-mail notice advising the registrant of the renewal fee to be paid and for proof of payment to be uploaded.

The National Liquor Authority is to be commended for initiating this project, which replaces the time-consuming and laborious manual system. You now have the advantage of following the process online as it unfolds. The only criticism I have is that the system is too rigid and by its very nature, does not allow for exceptions in hard cases. It is not easy to remedy mistakes as the system does not allow for corrections to be made. On the other hand, I must say that on the very few occasions when a deviation from the system has been necessary, the staff of the NLA have been very accommodating.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).