PARLIAMENT. The sale or consumption of alcohol before 5pm or after 1am will become criminal in Uganda, and violators risk a Shs2m fine or one-year jail term or both, according to penalties in draft alcohol regulation legislation.
The proposed law, titled the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2016, aims to consolidate all alcoholic-related laws and set tougher sanctions on alcohol consumption by, among others, creating national, district, and sub-county licencing and regulation committees.
It provides that a retailer cannot sue to recover any debt extended willingly to a consumer of alcohol unless the alcohol is served to a resident hotel, inn or lodge guest. This means that bar owners would incur losses unless patrons pay up before leaving the service point.
A group of lawmakers led by Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze (DP), who are originators of the Bill, want individuals who sell alcoholic beverages to children jailed.
The Bill provides that “the sale of alcohol shall also not be to persons under the age of 18 and, therefore, an offence for a person to purchase an alcoholic drink for another person he or she knows or has reason to believe is below eighteen years of age or to allow an underage person to access premises where alcoholic beverages are stored, sold or consumed. The punishment will be 10 years in prison or Shs20m or both.”
Details of the law
The law does not say how the age of prospective alcohol buyers will be verified - a legendary problem for Uganda - although it is likely that sellers could use the national identity cards whose issuance commenced last year.
In countries such as the United States, any alcohol buyer has to show a driving licence, passport or identity card as proof of age.
At a press conference organised in Kampala yesterday by the promoters of the proposed Private Member’s Bill and civil society organisations sponsoring the campaign, MP Nambooze said they were inspired by her constituents concerned about the health and social dangers of unregulated alcohol intake.
“We are not after those people who take alcohol responsibly. We just don’t want our young people to get addicted,” she said, before admitting that she too drinks alcohol.
They are yet to seek leave of Parliament to table the Bill. The lawmakers, however, said they have worked overtime to be ready to proceed if and when the Speaker authorises them to move the draft legislation aimed at regulating the manufacture, advertisement, sale, supply and consumption of alcohol.
The Bill seeks to ban advertisement of alcohol, just like the country did with tobacco, eliciting strong caution from players in the former industry.
“They should not waste time regulating beer because beer is already self-regulating,” said Mr Onapito Ekomoloit, the corporate affairs manager at SABMiller Uganda, the producers of Nile beer and other brands.
What brewers say
Mr Ekomoloit, who chairs the Uganda Alcohol Industry Association, said “alcohol cannot be simply wished away. It is as old as humanity. They should also understand the role of the beer companies to the growth of Uganda’s economy”.
Brewers have previously invoked their substantial contributions to tax revenue and jobs to ward off criticism of the adverse impact of alcohol, particularly cheap varieties packaged in sachets, which has rendered many able-bodied citizens unproductive.
Beer firms have ensured alcohol is not abused, Mr Ekomoloit said, citing a ban on their staff not to drink during work alongside sensitisation of agents not to make alcohol available to excessive drinkers or children.
Uganda already has on its law books the Enguli Act, the Liquor Act, Portable Spirits Act and the Shop Hours act, raising question on whether the state will this time have the will to enforce compliance with tougher penalties in the proposed law, if enacted.
Parliament legal officer John Tamale said there is a need to amend the current laws because “the penalties there are not punitive. There are no regulations on advertising or even on manufacturing.”
“That’s why we are calling it the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2016. If you produce a drink which has any content of alcohol we will get you,” he said.
Nambooze’s Bill borrows heavily from Kenya’s Alcohol drinks Control Act, 2010, whose object is protecting the health of individual’s alcohol drinkers.
“We are in support of having a policy to regulate alcohol so that all the players in the industry play under the same rules. Controlling the time alcohol is sold should not be the primary focus; rather the focus should be on what alcohol is being consumed. According to the World Health Organisation, 80 per cent of alcohol sold in Uganda is illicit (unregulated),” said Ms Rhona Arinaitwe, the Uganda Breweries Limited communications manager.
THE KEY PLAYERS SPEAK OUT
MP Betty Nambooze, one of the architects of the Bill. “We want to make it extremely hard for students at higher institutions of learning to access alcohol. So, we want all bars to be outside these institutions and there should be no sale of alcohol at guild canteens because those who don’t drink outnumber those who drink.”
Onapito Ekomoloit, the corporate affairs manager at SABMiller Uganda. “They should not waste time regulating beer because beer is already self-regulating. Alcohol cannot be simply wished away. It is as old as humanity. They should also understand the role of the beer companies to the growth of Uganda’s economy”.