How proposed law on alcohol will bite

The bill seeks to curb the sale and or consumption of alcoholic drinks in public service vehicles. Inset is lawmaker Sarah Opendi who is behind the bill. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The Bill suggests that persons found liable of selling alcohol outside allowed time should be fined Shs20m or imprisoned for 10 years.

Uganda’s reputation as an alcohol-consuming renegade is all but intact, with recent statistics from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Alcohol Consumption report showing that 75 percent of the population regularly engages in varying levels of consumption. 

With young adults aged 18 to 35 accounting for up to 85 percent of the aforesaid figure, an Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill is being mooted to put the brakes on a country that collectively consumes 12.21 litres of pure alcohol annually. Sarah Opendi, the Tororo District Woman lawmaker, this week tabled the proposed law in the House. 

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2023, among others, suggests that all persons found liable of selling alcohol beyond 10pm and midnight on weekdays and weekends respectively either be fined Shs20 million “or imprisonment for a period of 10 years or both”.

“A licensee shall not sell an alcoholic drink or native liquor before- (a) l7:00 hours and after 22:00 hours on working days; (b) 12:00 hours and after 00:00 hours on public holidays and weekends,” clause 14 of the Bill reads in part.

According to WHO, males domiciled in Uganda consume on average 19.93 litres of pure alcohol. Their female counterparts meanwhile muster 4.88 litres. This has catapulted the eastern African nation to fifth position on the index put together by the World Alcohol Consumption report. This has largely been attributed to a culture that fosters so-called binge drinking. 

The aforesaid binge drinking is propped, in no small part, by easy access to alcoholic beverages. The Uganda Alcohol Report 2022—published by the Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA)—makes clear beers accounts for 11 percent of alcohol consumed in Uganda. Spirits and wines take up three percent of the alcohol market, with other beverages splitting a beefy 89 percent.

“Uganda’s statistics on alcohol consumption are particularly worrying because the harmful use of alcohol causes a high burden of disease and has significant social and economic consequences,” Ms Opendi told the House this past workweek, adding, “Alcohol consumption has been found to be associated with increased risk of overall mortality and a number of chronic non-communicable diseases, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and stroke.”

Per the Tororo District Woman lawmaker, “high consumption of alcoholic drinks affects productivity in the communities, thus there is need to regulate manufacture, sale, protect children from easy accessibility and time for sale of alcoholic drinks.”

It is against this backdrop that clause 23 of the Bill seeks to curb the sale and or consumption of alcoholic drinks in public service vehicles. It does this by suggesting a fine of Shs4 million or jail term of six months or both. The same punishments are prescribed for a law enforcement officer who while dressed in uniform is found purchasing alcohol.

In clause 25(3) of the same law, the Bill seeks to impose a Shs40 million fine or jail term of a period not exceeding three years or both for anyone found guilty of selling alcohol to persons below the age of 18 years of age.

For clearance of any doubts about the buyer’s age, the legislation directs the seller to ask the buyer to produce a copy of his or her passport or national identification card to confirm their age.

If clause 26 passes in its current form, a Shs20 million fine or five-year jail sentence or both awaits anyone found to be packing, importing or even selling an alcoholic drink in a sachet, plastic bottle.

In clause 27, the Bill proposes a Shs10 million fine or five-year jail term or both for persons that sell alcoholic drinks in a package of less than 500 millilitres.

Alcohol manufacturing companies, some of which are the biggest taxpayers in the country, have previously taken exception to regulating their industry in the manner that Ms Opendi’s Bill is proposing. They have severally insisted that their responsible consumption campaigns (headlined by the ‘excessive consumption of alcohol is harmful to your health’ disclaimer and age restrictions) are gaining traction. UAPA and other observers, however, beg to differ.

Statistics offer support. The 2018 WHO report, for one, pointed out that 1,514 people die annually from alcohol-related cancers like mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer. The bitter froth, the report added, knocks off five years from the lives of Ugandans that are heavy or binge drinkers.

Recent findings reveal that 7.1 percent of alcohol consumers, roughly 3.2 million people in Uganda, struggle with alcohol use disorders. Ms Opendi’s Bill says this is all thanks to defects in the existing legal framework.

“The repeal of the Enguli (Manufacture and Licensing) Act, Cap. 86, and the Liquor Act, Cap. 93 by the Law Revision (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act, 2023 left gaps in the legal framework regulating the manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks,” the Bill states.

“The repealed Enguli (Manufacture and Licensing) Act, regulated the manufacture, sale and possession of enguli. The Act specifically prohibited the sale and export of enguli by unlicensed persons and exclusively preserved enguli as a raw material for distillation of Uganda Waragi by licenced brewers. Most communities in Uganda are consuming unregulated crude alcohol which is harmful to their lives,” it adds.

The Bill proceeds to note thus: “Further the repealed Liquor Act, Cap. 93 regulated the manufacture and sale of liquor to restricted licensed premises. The Act also prohibited the sale: of liquor, the manufacture or sale of native liquor without a licence, and further prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquor to children. After the repeal of the Liquor Act, alcohol is being sold anywhere, any time and accessible to children without any regulation.”

Proposed remedies: 

• Regulate the manufacture, importation and sale of alcoholic drinks
• Regulate time allowed for sale of alcoholic drinks