The government of Uganda has chosen to side with manufacturers of Sachet Waragi by ignoring pleas by health experts to ban locally produced gin that has been blamed for the rising level of delinquency and mental illnesses especially among the young people.
Although the Ministry of Health has pleaded with responsible officers to stop the production of locally brewed liquors, its sister Ministry of Trade has chosen to defend manufacturers and sought to ensure that they continue to produce the intoxicants until 2019 despite the overwhelming impact they have caused on society.
Experts from the Butabika National Mental Health and Training Hospital revealed that an overwhelming 90 percent of all mental health cases they receive every year, are due to drug abuse, of which the consumption of sachet waragi plays a major role.
Despite the damning evidence, Ministry of Health officials appear to be losing patience over the growing number of cases of young people who are losing their youthful years to sachet Waragi and other drugs.
Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health warned: “Drugs have caused more dangers in our country, most of the mental illness cases we have, majority of them are young people and 90% of them are actually associated with drugs”
She appealed to Parliament to quickly intervene by changing laws to tighten access to drugs as well as restrict sachet Waragi.
“Drug abuse is becoming a major disaster to our young generations. Law enforcement agencies and our policy makers must act now,” Atwine added.
The Ministry of Trade on the other hand argues that although it has a plan to phase out the production of sachet waragi, the distillers remain major contributors of tax to the government.
The Minister of Trade Amelia Kyambadde told The Sunrise that her ministry has set September 2019 as the deadline for the production of sachet Waragi. She argues that the companies are gradually phasing out sachet Waragi to replace it with bottled types.
Critics however argue that the alleged phased approach is simply a delaying tactic to keep manufacturers in business and ensure that government continues to reap tax revenue.
Kadijah Nakakande, the Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Trade Industry and Cooperatives revealed that government accepted the phased approach to allow manufacturers repay loans they acquired from banks.
She said: “Government gave an ultimatum of November 2017 to ban alcohol in sachets. However, alcohol manufacturers under their association petitioned the Minister over the challenges they were facing in complying with the directive.
These include; delays in securing loans from financial institutions to source and procure bottle making and filling machinery and equipment, meeting unforeseen costs for scrapping off production lines, laying off workers who claim for compensation and benefits, among other challenges.”
According to Nakakande, the Ministry has undertaken field monitoring visits to all alcohol manufacturing industries and found that more than 50% have acquired land for expansion and placed orders for procurement of bottling machines considering the challenges.
As a result the ministry extended the ban to March 2019 “to allow the manufacturers acquire the necessary equipment for bottling. In the long run, the Ministry of Trade is working on a new law- the Alcohol Control Bill which will address all challenges in the sub-sector. Consultations with stakeholders are still ongoing.
Minister for trade Amelia Kyambadde added that: “If the manufacturers change from buvera to battles, this Waragi will be very expensive so poor people and students will not have access to it since it will be expensive and very many people will not afford it. I think that is one way we are trying to regulate this as a ministry.”
However many leaders are not at peace with the extension. In fact many have pointed that similar deadlines have been issued and extended several times.
“Alcohol, especially sachet waragi is seriously ruining our young people and a lot of evil deeds that we are facing in our communities are as a results of this cheap Waragi. Our society lacks laws that forbid people from taking waragi in the morning, every time I move in Nakawa, Kisasi, Luzira and other city surburbs even in the city centre, I see Bodaboda riders, taxi drivers, trailer drivers and even some special hire car drivers taking these waragis, so this is a very big problem the Ministry of trade must counter urgently in order to save our societ from ruin,” said Nakawa Division Mayor Ronald Balimwezo.
Last year ministry of Trade asked Gulu district authorities to rescind the by law they had passed which banned the sale and consumption of sachet Waragi.
Besides the proliferation of Sachet Waragi, psychiatrists also blame the government for failing to expand care and treatment facilities for victims of mental health.
Experts argue that Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital is over stretched to the extent that majority of the patients who need to be rehabilitated, are instead told to go back to the communities. Because the relatives or the community does not have the know-how of handling such cases, the situation of the patients often deteriorates due to stigma and actual physical abuse.