PSFU, UMA and KACITA warn govt on law to regulate alcohol sale, drinking hours

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Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The Uganda Manufacturers’ Association (UMA) and Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) have expressed concerns regarding the potential adverse economic consequences of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023. They argue that the proposed legislation poses a significant threat to millions of jobs.

In addition to UMA and KACITA, the Private Sector Foundation (PSFU) has urged Parliament to redirect its focus towards addressing the root issue of illicit alcohol. They emphasize that illicit alcohol not only jeopardizes consumer health but also leads to substantial revenue losses for the government.

Over the past two days, representatives from PSFU, UMA, and KACITA engaged with Members of Parliament from the Health and Trade Committee, who are currently scrutinizing the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023. The consensus among these stakeholders is that the bill could negatively impact the livelihoods of over 300,000 individuals employed directly and indirectly in the alcohol sector.

A specific concern raised by critics is outlined in Section 14(1) of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023, which prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages or native liquor before 17:00 hours and after 22:00 hours on working days.

Additionally, the restriction extends to 12:00 hours and after 00:00 hours on public holidays and weekends. Critics argue that such restrictions could have far-reaching implications for the alcohol industry and the associated workforce.

“The bill is an attack on these jobs. This includes the entire value chain manufacturers, grain farmers, Distributors, Bars, and clubs. Bars in Uganda directly employ approximately 150,000 locals not counting the chefs in the prime bars, artists, comedians, boda boda cyclists who transport people, the people who sell foodstuff near the bars during late night hours, those who sell water, and many other businesses,” said Dr Ezra Rubanda, the UMA Executive Director.

UMA contends that the proposed bill will have repercussions across the entire value chain, affecting individuals from the farmers cultivating barley and rearing livestock, to manufacturers in the industry, and the employees working in these factories. The domino effect extends to school-going children, who may face challenges in affording their education.

Citing data from the Uganda Bar Owners Association, it is estimated that there are around 50,000 bars in the country, directly benefiting approximately 150,000 Ugandans. Furthermore, the ripple effect reaches individuals near these bars, including those involved in the preparation of food items such as “muchomo” or “Chapati,” contributing to a livelihood for an additional 150,000 Ugandans.

Concerns have been raised that the proposed time restrictions in the bill could lead to widespread unemployment within these sectors. The argument is also extended to the realm of political activities, questioning how politicians could effectively organize rallies and gatherings, particularly in locations like Kimezas and local village discussions, without the consumption of alcohol.

Dr. Thadeus Musoke, the Chairman of KACITA, highlights a specific risk in the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023, emphasizing that its exemption of the manufacture of native liquor for domestic consumption or ceremonies could exacerbate the already prevalent issue of illicit trade, accounting for 65 percent of total alcohol consumption in Uganda. He further warns that the presence of illicit alcohol in the market could result in revenue losses for the government and legitimate alcohol producers.

“We recommend that the Bill be reviewed and should regulate all alcohol consumption and must not exempt any category including the currently unregulated home and traditional brews (native liquor),” said Musoke.

Previously, representatives of the Private Sector Foundation (PSFU) had urged Members of Parliament from the Health and Trade Committee, who were reviewing the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023, to redirect their attention towards addressing the fundamental issue of illicit alcohol. The PSFU officials emphasized that illicit alcohol not only poses health risks to consumers but also results in substantial financial losses for the government due to uncollected taxes, amounting to billions.

Dr. Julius Byaruhanga, the Director of Policy and Business Development at PSFU, pointed out a specific aspect of concern. He noted that the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023 does not encompass regulations related to the sale of native alcohol.

This exemption raises apprehensions about potential loopholes that could contribute to the perpetuation of illicit alcohol-related issues, further underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach to alcohol regulation.

“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). 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.

The provisions outlined in the new bill, as highlighted by Martin Maku, the Agribusiness Sector Coordinator at PSFU, are anticipated to result in a significant loss of income for farmers who supply raw materials to the brewing industry.

Maku explained that brewers heavily rely on a variety of agricultural products such as sorghum, barley, cassava, and corn in the manufacturing process of alcoholic beverages. The impact of these provisions is expected to extend to the agricultural sector, affecting the livelihoods of farmers engaged in the cultivation and supply of these crucial raw materials for the production of alcoholic beverages.

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“The bill is an attack on the national treasury. Government gets over 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.”

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

“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,” Charles Batambuze, the Vice Chairman National Culture Forum stated.