In a high-stakes meeting held at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning boardroom, the Uganda Alcohol Industry Association (UAIA) engaged with the Minister of State for Investment, Hon Evelyn Anite, and the Minister of State for Trade, Hon David Bahati, to express deep-seated concerns regarding the proposed Alcohol Drinks Control Bill 2023. The legislation aims to regulate the manufacturing, importation, sale, consumption, and advertisement of alcoholic drinks in Uganda.
During the meeting, members of the UAIA brought attention to what they deemed as problematic clauses in the bill, which, if enacted into law, could have severe repercussions on the national economy and the alcohol industry. Foremost among their concerns was the omission and/or lack of regulation for native liquor, constituting 65% of alcohol production and holding a 50% market share.
The association also raised objections to the proposed shift of the implementation mandate from the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives to the Ministry of Health. Furthermore, they voiced reservations about the additional licensing requirements for manufacturers and sellers of alcoholic beverages within the industry. The contentious clause on operating hours (5 pm to 10 pm on weekdays) and the age verification requirement for online alcohol sales were met with skepticism.
Expressing the potential adverse effects on the economy, UAIA warned of a ripple effect, affecting numerous individuals and businesses throughout the alcohol value chain. Onapito Ekomoloit, the former Chairman of the Uganda Alcohol Industry Association, stated, “We agree to the need for industry regulation; however, it should be done fairly so as not to stifle the economy.”
Onapito urged the ministers to request Parliament to reconsider or withdraw the bill. “We’re talking about an industry that contributes over 1.1 trillion shillings in taxes, and the value chain cuts across the backbone of the economy. We need to be careful about how we regulate this industry,” he added.
Responding to these concerns, Hon David Bahati acknowledged the association’s worries, particularly regarding illicit alcohol and its impact on revenue and standards. However, he encouraged the UAIA to provide counterproposals as a constructive means of addressing the raised issues.
“We as the government are concerned about illicit alcohol for both its safety and revenue. We need to come out strongly against the sale of illicit alcohol to protect our people,” said Bahati.
Chairman of Legit Bar, Entertainment, and Restaurant Owners Association (LEBRA), Tesfalem Gherahtu, presented statistics from a study conducted on 50 bars in Kololo and Nakasero. He highlighted that over 45,000 employment opportunities and $34 million in annual payments would be jeopardized if the proposed restrictions on the night economy were implemented.
In response, Hon Evelyn Anite committed to engaging in a dialogue with the Health and Tourism Trade and Industry committees of parliament to assess the financial impact of the bill.
“The issue of alcohol has economic, social, and health impacts on society, and we must strike a balance when addressing the implications of the bill,” she said.
As discussions continue, stakeholders anticipate a collaborative effort to address the concerns raised by the industry while ensuring the well-being and safety of the public.