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Trade ministry, local governments fight over alcohol law

Sachets of alcohol packaged in 100ml in Uganda.

Proponents of the law say it will ensure a healthy and productive population

Uganda’s trader ministry and the Gulu District Local Government are at loggerheads over the latter’s decision to pass an ordinance restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Gulu District Councilors enforced an Alcohol Control Ordinance starting last November, with more districts in the country’s northern region planning to follow suit.

The regulation stipulates that bars open their doors to the members of the public at 5pm to 1am, with alcohol packaged in breakable bottles of not less than 250 militres.

It also states that those intending to sell alcoholic drinks in the district ensure that their places are located more than half a kilometre from education institutions.

The new regulation was in response to high rate of alcohol abuse in the district leading to increased domestic violence and low productivity especially among men.

But this has not gone well with the trade ministry and the alcohol producing companies.

Amelia Kyambadde, the minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives dispatched a team to   Gulu on Jan 31 led by the Assistant Commissioner in the ministry, Richard Okot Okello.

The team’s major assignment was to convince the district councilors to suspend the implementation of the Ordinance saying the government was developing a nationwide approach to deal with the problem of alcoholism by September.

But Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the chairperson of Gulu District told The Independent that the district passed its ordinance under the Local Government Act and there is no way it will stop its implementation.

“We are not going to suspend implementing the Ordinance,” Mapenduzi said. “We are even already seeing good results in the past few months and the residents are happy.”

This new development comes at the time a group of lawmakers led by Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze (Democratic Party) have proposed a bill in parliament that intends  to make it criminal for one to sell or consume alcohol before 5pm or after 1am.

Those who will be successfully prosecuted, if the proposed law, titled the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill 2016 is passed into law will be liable for a Shs 2 million fine or one-year jail term or both.

The proposed law 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 also 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 or lodge guest.

In addition, it also seeks to ban advertisement of alcohol, just like the country did with tobacco, and prohibit sale of the product to persons below 18 years.

Speaking to The Independent in an interview, Nambooze said the sole aim of the law is to ensure that the population is healthy and utilsise most of its time on productive work.

“We cannot sit and see our societies rot away,” she said. “Our people need to spend most of their time working rather than involving in alcohol abuse that has resulted into increased domestic violence and poverty.”

Medics view on alcohol regulation

Dr. Hafsa Lukwata, a senior medical officer at the Ministry of Health concurs with Nambooze’s proposals.

“We are spending a lot of money on treating people suffering from the effects of alcohol abuse and we feel that shouldn’t continue,” Dr. Lukwata said. “We need a law that will safeguard health of our people.”

She suggests that alcohol products packaged in quantities of at least 750mililitres, with high minimum prices to discourage consumption.

Currently, alcohol is packaged in quantities of as low as 100militres priced at Shs500 per sachet.

On the same note, Stephen Kasiima, the director of traffic and road safety at the Uganda Police says there is need for a law that will regulate alcohol consumption arguing that a large  proposition of  the population  that have previously involved in accidents  have, in many instances,   been under influence of alcohol.

“The current law popularly known as Enguli Act cannot be enforced because the penalty is very negligible,” Kasiima said.

The Enguli Act that came into place in 1966 looks mainly at licensing for the production and management of the local potent gin. And any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any of the provisions of this Act is liable to a fine not more than Shs3, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.

A World Health Organization (WHO) Road Safety Report released in 2015 states that there are 27.4 traffic deaths per 100,000 people every year in Uganda. However, it is higher in Kenya at 29.1, Rwanda 32.1 and Tanzania 32.9.

The latest Uganda Police annual traffic report showed a 6% decline to 2,930 in 2013 as a result of motor related accidents compared with the previous year, with pedestrians and passengers being the most vulnerable category of road users.

The figure, however, could have risen over the past four years as a result of recent fatal accidents.

But Onapito Ekomoloit, the corporate affairs director at the Nile Breweries Limited (NBL) and the chairperson of the Uganda Alcohol Industry Association says whereas they support safe alcohol consumption, they do not agree with the recent move to restrict consumption.

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