ALCOHOL LAW: Do we need laws to sort behavior change issues?
Talk to Betty Nambooze Bakireke, the Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament about the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2016 which she on Oct. 05 introduced as a Private Members’ Bill to parliament and you will be struck by how animated she gets.
“I drink alcohol,”she insists,” but people should be protected”.
She adds: “Laws are not made for good people but for bad ones. I am not saying alcoholic drinks should be abolished completely.”
The day she presented her Bill, she for the first time had a bitter exchange with her long time friend and office mate Moses Kasibante, the Rubaga North legislator who did not support her. She said he is a drunkard who sleeps in bars because Kasibante rose on a point of procedure saying she should not be heard because according to him such a law would cause death. The flare up between them shows how high tempers can go when alcohol consumption is condemned.
In her 110 clause draft bill, Nambooze seeks to regulate consumption, sale and manufacturing of alcohol. If approved, sale of alcohol will be done between 5pm and 12am. This will be a major departure from the current situation where alcohol can be sold and consumed at any time.
The Bill also provides for licensing anyone intending to import and the packaging of the drinks will have to change to bigger bottles from the cheaper sachets. She also proposes the mandate of alcohol regulation to be moved from the Trade Ministry to Ministry of Health since it’s a major public health concern.
According to Nambooze, by not regulating alcohol, the government is handing the youth a tool of self-destruction as Uganda has the second highest record of taking alcohol on the continent yet it’s one of the countries with the youngest population.
“89 % of the alcohol consumed by our people is unregulated. Some of it is made using unclear ingredients some poisonous by people who don’t care about health but their only motive is to make money.”
She says Uganda has a per capita consumption of alcohol of 24 liters of alcohol per year. Butabika National Mental Referral hospital has had to construct a unit dedicated to alcohol addiction owing to increasing numbers of patients.
But Nambooze says it unlikely the current government can stir up political will to regulate alcohol.
“I know Museveni will be opposed to this law because non regulation of alcohol is also a political tool for domination,” she says, “(But) let’s first have the law. When we get good leaders they will have where to start from.”
She also says some politicians are not supporting the Bill because their voters want alcohol.
Attempts to regulate alcohol consumption have a checkered history in Uganda. Two laws; the Enguli (manufacture and Licensing) Act, Cap 86 and the Liquor Act Cap 93, are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.
Many experts also question the purpose of Nambooze’s Bill.
Dr. Freddie Sengooba, a Public Health Specialist, says when dealing with behavioral change issues, individual-based interventions are better than laws. According to him laws can only be useful if they are tackling the commercial side; handling issues to do with distribution and manufacturing.
“With issues to do with behavioral change, regulation in the community is difficult,” he says, “How will they crackdown on someone who moves with his sachet of Waragi to the garden?” To be effective at regulating he says, the country needs to have strong capacity to invest in enforcement something Uganda with its meager resources may not afford to do.
For Sengooba, there are cheaper but very effective means of making people change without threatening them with laws. He says they could be educated about the problem and given jobs to keep them busy.
Ali Male, a counseling psychologist, agrees. He says people who make bills are not experts and often don’t do enough consultation. To him making laws is not the only approach for dealing with irresponsible behavior in society. Sometimes those implicated come back with double crime after serving their terms and end up repeating the same mistakes that they were punished for.
He mentions another law that lies idle – the Family Act which according to him is the reason we are experiencing many social problems. Behavioral problems like alcohol addiction stem from how families are run.
He says alcohol consumption is a critical problem but proposes persuasion and behavioral change campaigns as short term interventions that can work. Laws, he says, could come in the long run. He says MPs need to understand why people make certain decisions before passing such bills. He says social issues are complex that even when the goal is clear, the problem is often ill-defined and uncertain. To him, the uncertainty can be embraced by focusing on the people involved and ensuring that the industry, academia and the creative industries work in new ways together. He says the lines between the public, private and voluntary sectors are not clear and social enterprise is now entwined with commercial, political and charitable goals.
However, if Uganda passes the alcoholic drinks bill, it will not have been the first one to do so in recent times. Turkey, Russia and some Scandinavian countries have recently passed similar laws limiting the time when people should drink, its marketing and the labeling of the drinks. How these countries ensure implementation is what Uganda should learn from them. To Male, it does not make sense to pile up laws without being sure of their acceptance.
Behaviour laws that haven’t worked
Behavioral science experts say laws are at times not the best ways to regulate behavior change issues. Many other Bills passed recently addressing social aspects have not had much to change. Some have instead caused outrage whereas others have not been understood or have been totally ignored. Examples include:
- The Anti-homosexuality Act which earned the country a lot of international backlash because of criminalising same sex sexual relationships.
- The HIV AIDS prevention and Control act 2014 which involves criminalising intentional transmission of the virus and disclosure of one’s status to another party.
- The Tobacco Control Act 2015 passed last year prohibits smoking in public places, banning advertisement, ban of some products like sisha, kuber, sale of minors below 21 years, prohibiting unnecessary interactions with the Tobacco industry as a way of protecting public health policies from the tobacco industry interference.
- The Anti- pornography Act also passed in 2014 provides for apprehending perpetrators of pornography and destroying pornographic materials. The passing of this law rubbed activists especially those keen on women rights the wrong way. Makerere University law professor Sylvia Tamale warned that government should be careful about coming up with laws that infringe on personal freedom.