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Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023: PSFU Requests That Parliament Refocus on Illegal Alcohol Use

Officials from the Private Sector Foundation (PSFU) have urged Members of Parliament on the Health and Trade Committee, who are scrutinizing the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023, to shift their focus to addressing the underlying challenge of illicit alcohol. Ilicit alcohol not only affects the health of consumers but also deprives the Government of billions in lost taxes.

According to Dr. Julius Byaruhanga, the PSFU Director of Policy and Business Development, the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023 does not apply to the sale of native alcohol, which poses a risk of increased illicit trade, already at about 65%.

“This is because most of the illicit alcohol is made under the guise of homebrew. The law here is counter-productive; it equally excludes by encouraging illicit (for home use). The Bill extensively undermines the formal alcohol industry sector. There is an urgent need to regulate illicit alcohol production and trade because of the health implications it has on the population.”

While appearing before the Health and Trade Committees on February 27th, 2024, Byaruhanga emphasized that the formal sector is already regulated by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) for taxes, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) for quality purposes, and by digital tax stamps.

“The formal sector is further self-regulating. Earlier in 2023, the alcohol sector through the Uganda Alcohol Industry Association launched the responsible code of conduct. Honourable Members, the biggest challenge this country faces, whether it is on health or otherwise, is the sale of illicit alcoholic drinks. The private sector would appreciate it if this House legislated to control the sale of illicit alcohol.”

Section 14 of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023 states that “A licensee shall not sell an alcoholic drink or native liquor before 17:00 hours and after 22:00 hours on working days, and 12:00 hours and after 00:00 hours on public holidays and weekends.

This provision, according to Martin Maku, the Agribusiness Sector Coordinator at PSFU, will lead to a loss of income for farmers who supply raw materials. He said that brewers use sorghum, barley, cassava, and corn to manufacture alcoholic beverages.

“The bill is an attack on the national treasury (plus 1 trillion in taxes from alcohol, the sector contributes over 35% of the tax base. UAIA members are named among the top 5 taxpayers in Uganda.”

Charles Batambuze, the Vice Chairman National Culture Forum, said the bill casts darkness and uncertainty over the prospects of the creative industry, which currently employs over one million young people and contributes over 3% per annum to Uganda’s economy. It also influences the growth of other industries such as broadcasting, telecommunications, tourism, and hospitality.

“The alcohol sector is the biggest single employer of artists and performs in indirect jobs that include brand ambassadors, models, advertising agents, visual artists, designers, and vixens. It also engages them indirectly through sponsorships of events/shows and festivals,” he stated.

In addition, Batambuze said that bars have continued to be instrumental in talent identification, nurturing, and development by creating and providing platforms for upcoming artists to practice and learn their art.

MPs’ views

Tom Bright Amooti, the MP for Kyaka Central County in Kyegegwa District, said there is no evidence that the mover of the bill Sarah Opendi (Tororo Woman MP) consulted line ministries such as trade. He also said that the fact that the mover of the bill did not have the economic impact report makes the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023 dead on arrival.

“We need to protect our country, but we do not need to victimize others. The issue of alcohol abuse should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, not the omnibus approach. The bill should be withdrawn.

About the Bill

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill was presented to Parliament on November 14th, 2023, by the Tororo Woman MP Sarah Opendi. The bill seeks to regulate the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic drinks.

Opendi suggested limiting alcohol sales during working days to the period between 5pm and 10pm, with weekends extending the window from midday to midnight.

She also proposed a jail term of 10 years or fine of Shs20m for anyone found selling alcoholic drinks before 5pm and beyond 10pm on working days.

Opendi wants the employment of a person below the age 18 years in premises in which an alcoholic drink is manufactured, sold, stored or consumed prohibited, and proposed a fine not exceeding one thousand currency points (Shs20m) or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or both.

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