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Mangala for relaxing laws on liquor sale

Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera proposed relaxing the laws pertaining to the sale of Wine and Beer in the country.

The minister said relaxing the issue of licenses for wine and beer sales would help deter consumption of illegal liquor (kassippu).

However, he stressed that it was his personal opinion, adding that the Finance Ministry would soon take a policy decision in that regard.

He also said the practice of closure of bars and taverns on Poya Days and Christmas Day should be reconsidered. “Even though we ban the sale of liquor on Poya Days, the consumption of illegal liquor is high on those days. The owners of Super Markets and bars told me that liquor sales go up on the day prior to Poya,” he said.

The Minister pointed out some bar owners sell liquor at their homes at higher prices on Poya Days. “We have banned the sale of liquor even on Christmas Day. December is the peak tourist season in the country. It is timely that we reconsider these out-dated laws. For example, Thailand is a Buddhist country, but, they only close bars and taverns on the General Elections Day which comes once in about 5-6 years,” Minister Samaraweera said.

The Minister made these comments moving a Notification under the Excise Ordinance for debate in Parliament yesterday. The Notification was to reduce the distillery license fee from Rs.100 million to Rs 1 million.

As per a budgetary proposal in 2016, the distillery license fee (except for palmyrah arrack) was increased from Rs 100,000 to Rs.100 million and the license fee for manufacturing of liquor was increased from Rs.50,000 to Rs.50 million.

“However,small and medium scale manufacturers complained that they could not afford the sharp increase. Several fundamental rights petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against the move. The Supreme Court suspended enforcing the revised license fees till the hearing ends. Therefore, the reduction of license fees with effect from January 1, 2017 will not result in any loss of revenue to the Government,” the Minister said.

The minister said there are 15 distilleries and 24 liqour manufacturing companies in the country. He pointed out the consumption of illegal liquor is a problem in the country, adding that this percentage is as high as 61 percent.

“It has been found that the consumption of ‘kassippu’ goes up when we increase the duty on liquor. We cannot forcibly reduce liquor consumption, instead what we can do is to give more relief to types that have less impact on health,” he said.

He said the Finance Ministry is discussing and collecting information to revise the laws pertaining to the sale of wine and beer.