BY SAMIE WAIKORI
PRICES for rice and sweet beverages can expect an upsurge early next year.
This is the brainchild of a dialogue currently being held between the health and finance ministries – to impose tax on these food products in a move to control their use as they are rated as potential risks to health.
Chief Nutrition Officer from the health ministry (MHMS), Ms Salome Diatalau recently made the statement in an interview with this paper.
She said work is progressing on the matter as they are looking at possible ways to impose the tax considering impacts it may carry on the public.
Diatalau explained that although the two ministries are working together on the matter, they have diverse working priorities at the beginning.
She said the MHMS is only targeting beverages and other high risk healthy food like those high in fats and salt.
Adding that the initiative to impose tax on rice which at the moment is zero tax is initiated by the finance ministry (MoFT), but both ministries seem to combine it into one programme.
Diatalau said after the MHMS initiated the programme they partnered with FAO and outsourced a study task that conducted assessment on sweet sugary beverages in the country.
She said the purpose of the study was to find out the health effects of beverage use with directive to consider imposing tax on it.
Adding that the report on the study is currently with MHMS and it is the pillar on which this proposed exercise will be taken.
Diatalau said according to their schedule they should hold a meeting either on Monday or Tuesday this week to discuss areas around the proposed tax programme.
She said this meeting will however give direction on what the tax will be like under the programme.
“So for the programme, yes, we expect tax on rice and beverages as of 2019, but there will be no ban on rice as recently alerted,” Diatalau said.
She said for the MHMS side on the programme, they looked at piloting the programme with beverage than to other health risky food.
Diatalua said the MHMS is looking at possible way to tax beverage and areas under consideration are whether tax will impose on volumes or sugar ingredient of the products.
“For now, we’ll only look at both import and locally made beverages including things like coffee mix, pop drinks etc.
“Products like lolly, chocolate and other food products high in fats and salty will be at the later stage as the programme rolls,” she said.
Diatalau said for this programme the risk is for everyone as almost everyone in the country drink beverage, but the target is for children.
Diatalau said children often choose to consume sweet and sugary foods, and food high and fats and salts that give high risk to NCDs.
“So we want to prepare the products now so that in future we won’t caught up with problem with them as currently face,” she said.
Diatalau also said another idea behind the programme was to discourage people from processed food and encourage them to eat more local food.
She said it will be difficult to change people’s behaviour, but understanding the programme and by looking at facts of increase of food related disease in the country, people will change.