Alcohol Bill will cripple economy, artists say

National Cultural Forum (NCF) Chairman Mr Daniel Kazibwe (left) and Private Sector Foundation Uganda Director for Policy and Business Development Mr Julius Byaruhanga (right) appear before the Committees on Health, and Tourism, Trade and Industry on February 27, 2024. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

The Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) and the culture and creatives industry have warned that the enactment of the Alcohol Drinks Control Bill, 2023, will cripple the nightlife and significantly reduce the tax base, dealing adverse effects to the economy.

While appearing before the parliamentary committees on Health and Trade yesterday, PSFU said: “The Bill is an attack on the National Treasury with more than one trillion shillings in taxes from alcohol, the sector contributes more than 35 percent of the tax base.”

It added: “Millions of jobs will be lost, billions in revenue and the alcohol manufacturing industry will be crippled. This Bill also has significant effects on Uganda’s tourism industry because Uganda now leads the region and is one of the leading in the night economy, which is a niche that we have been selling as a country.”

According to Dr Julius Byaruhanga, the director of Policy and Business Development at PSFU, the ripple effects of the proposed law will affect all sectors.

The Bill, which is sponsored by Tororo Woman MP Sarah Opendi, seeks to regulate the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic drinks. The Bill dictates that alcohol only be sold between 5pm and 10pm on weekdays and not after midnight on weekends.

The Bill proposes that a person who contravenes this commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine of Shs20m or imprisonment for 10 years, or both. The Bill also proposes a stringent licensing regime for bars.

However, PSFU said: “Limited time may not necessarily translate into people drinking less and thus might be redundant. If at all, this could have the unintended consequence of increased home consumption. ...”

Representatives from the culture and creatives industry argued that a cap on time would limit their hours of work since most revellers go out at night, while stringent licensing procedures could limit the places available to them to conduct their business.

The industry also wants the clause granting the minister powers to regulate advertisement of alcoholic drinks deleted, saying it may pose a threat to the gig economy like influencers and brand ambassadors who may face censorship.

Mr Martin Marku, the Agriculture, Agribusiness, and Forestry Sector coordinator at PSFU, told legislators that the exemption of native liquor for domestic use or traditional ceremonies presents a risk of increased illicit trade.

The representatives from the culture and creatives industry also speak against the stringent licensing requirements, including the requirement that any bar is not within four hundred meters of a school or fuel station,

But Ms Margaret Ayebare, the Mbarara Woman MP, who chaired the committee meeting, questioned whether the business players had considered the health of Ugandans.