Inside the proposed alcohol control measures in Sarah Opendi’s Private Member’s Bill.

Uganda is a circular country where citizens are free to live their lifestyles the way they want so long as the enjoyments are not in conflict with the laws of the land.

One of the free lifestyles enjoyed by Ugandans is boozing and this has been one of the remaining traditional traits because men were engaging in progressive discussions whenever they gathered to sip their alcohol. Such was the social aspect of drinking in the traditional African society, Uganda inclusive.

However, with different brands of alcohol on the market, there have been complaints that many Ugandan men have turned into irresponsible citizens because of their actions after getting drunk.

Because of such challenges that include low attention to work and also breeding of other vices like theft, sexual immorality and other sorts of crimes, a law is in the offing to repeal the existing laws like the Enguli Act, 1966 and also regulating the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol in the current situation.

Sarah Opendi, the Tororo District Woman Member of Parliament is working with other authorities to finalise the Alcoholic Control Bill after she was granted leave to introduce it as a Private Member.

We have no capacity from stopping people from drinking but government can regulate. We should have the drinking hours. You can drink after work:~ Hon. Sarah Opendi

On top of the Enguli Act, Opendi has identified defects in other laws like the Liquor Act, Cap 93 and the Portable Spirits Act, CAP 97, hence the need to repeal all of them in order to put a new legal framework to control alcoholic drinks in the country.

The Bill a draft of which has been seen by this report intends to cater for licensing, prohibition of sale of alcoholic drinks to specific persons, creating awareness and rehabilitation strategies, and also the enforcement aspect.

Opendi says that she is concerned that the harmful use of alcoholic drinks causes a high burden of diseases and significant social and economic consequences like domestic violence that often result in harm to other people.

One of the key challenges that Opendi wants to address is the promotion and advertisement of alcoholic drinks because it some cases, counterfeit alcohol has been on the market leading to health-related issues in the society.

The new law according to Opendi will pave way for the country to control manufacturing and selling of counterfeit alcoholic drinks that are hazardous to the people‚Äôs lives like the City 5 waragi that killed six people in Arua in August this year. It was actually at the time when legislators from West Nile brought bottles of the poisonous gin to Parliament that Opendi a former State Minister for primary healthcare put the House to notice that she would table a Private Member’s Bill.

Licensing regime

If the Bill is passed and subsequently signed into law, it will pave way for the alcohol licensing authority so that all the drinks that certify the standards set by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS)are legally on the market.

The Minister for Trade will issue licenses for imported alcohol and large-scale industries while the licenses for small scale industries will issued by the District, City or Municipal authorities in whose jurisdiction they are being established.  To enforce the licensing regime, Opendi is proposing a fine of 500000 currency points or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both for whoever would be convicted for manufacturing, selling and importing alcohol without a license.

Opendi who in her motion accuses Ugandans of drinking from morning till late, she is proposing that drinking time be regulated by ensuring that bars are opened after midday and closed by 6am. A fine of 1000 currency points or a custodial sentence of 10 years or both awaits anyone who would be found guilty of violating this clause.

Other offences

The Alcoholic Control Act if enacted would also regulate the selling of alcohol in passenger service vehicles but it does not have proposals on whether passengers who enter these vehicles while already drunk would be punished. A fine of 200 currency points or a jail term of six months or both has been proposed for the offender convicted for selling alcohol in a passenger service vehicle.

Because there have been cases of police officers accused of being drunk on duty, Opendi has also proposed deterrent punishments for them and whoever would sell alcohol to them. Six-year imprisonment has been proposed for an enforcement officer in uniform who will be found in a licensed bar for the purpose of drinking instead of restoring order, whereas the bar owner who sales alcohol to an enforcement officer in uniform faces one year in prison.

In the rural Uganda, local leaders are overwhelmed with the number of minors that are drinking alcohol before making trouble at social gatherings like wedding parties and funerals. By the existing laws, alcohol is not for sale to persons under the age of 18 and some of the corporate drinks manufacturers prescribe it on the bottles.  A licensed trade that would be found selling alcohol to persons below 18 years of age would face upon conviction a fine of 2000 currency points or prison sentence of 3 years or both.

Other proposed stringent punishments if the law is passed include not promoting or advertising alcoholic drinks that do not bare information that will have been prescribed by the Minister; and a drink must be packaged with information containing health warnings.

Meanwhile, the Alcoholic Control Bill as proposed looks to be rhyming with a similar legislation comprised in the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act in the neighbouring Kenya. The Kenyan law like the one proposed by Opendi, addressed defects in the prevailing laws.

However, different studies have published the challenges the Kenyan government is facing in enforcing the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2020. These challenges include corruption whereby the institutions charged with enforcement have been accused of being compromised to protect culprits like illicit brewers; poor enforcement of the law; counterfeit alcohol continues to flood the market; and, alcohol dependence by some enforcement offices like police, Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs.

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