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COVID-19 Prevention Task Force vetoes online liquor sales move



Illicit hooch business having a field day says Excise official

by Suresh Perera

The proposal mooted by the Excise Department for online liquor sales was shot down by the Covid-19 Prevention Task Force following strong objections by influential sections of the medical fraternity last week.

The move to supply local and foreign alcohol with a cap on the quantum an individual can purchase online was given the nod by the Finance Ministry, but the government buckled under pressure from medical professionals particularly from the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA).

Army Commander, Gen. Shavendra Silva, who heads the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), announced the vetoing of the proposal on Thursday, saying “permission for online liquor sales will not be granted” — a move seen as being influenced by the outcry by the medical sector.

The whole idea was to give tipplers access to legal alcohol so that the roaring illicit moonshine business could be curbed to some extent, a senior excise official clarified.

Apart from the thriving illicit hooch trade, many people are using various combinations to brew liquor at home at the risk of poisoning themselves, he warned. “Lately, many internet “how to make your own booze” videos have also surfaced.

It is true that billions of rupees in tax revenue are lost due to the ban on legal liquor, but more importantly, at the end of the day it is the government which has to foot the bill when those who resort to illicit rotgut end up in hospitals, he pointed out.

“It was to overcome the inherent dangers that we floated the idea of online sales of liquor sales, but now that it has been disallowed, there’s no option other than to let the caravan move on”, he noted.

With the police busy with Covid-19 related tasks coupled with implementing travel restrictions across the country, there’s hardly any time to crack down on the proliferating illegal rotgut trade, officials said.

Lurking fears of Covid-19 transmission have also restricted raids, they noted.

In the absence of legal liquor, even the price of ‘kassippu’ (illicit hooch) has been pushed up as those in the trade are cashing in on the situation, they asserted.

In a letter to Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the SLMA expressed its “sincere appreciation” for the steps taken by him to disallow the sale of alcohol through retail outlets during this very difficult period.

“This is a major relief to many families who would have otherwise suffered health, economic and other consequences of alcohol during the past few weeks”, SLMA President, Dr. Padma Gunaratne, said.

Saying that it is “gravely concerned” over moves to allow internet sales of alcohol, the SLMA assumed that the Excise Department is aware the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act (NATA) No. 26 of 2006 expressly prohibits advertising alcohol in the internet.

Internet sales will also circumvent the age, time and place restrictions mandated for alcohol sales in this country, through the Excise Ordinance and the NATA Act, it noted.

The Exercise Department has brought forward many unsubstantiated arguments to support this move, put forward previously by the alcohol industry against alcohol control measures in Sri Lanka, the body of medical professionals further said.

“It is especially concerning that the Deputy Commissioner of Law Enforcement of the Excise Department is claiming on television that the production and sale of illicit alcohol has gone up within the last two weeks, to an extent that warrants the government to by-pass the laws of the country and allow internet sales of alcohol”.

“Such spokespersons for the department should provide concrete evidence for such claims, including the volumes, locations and the harm caused by such illicit alcohol during the past two weeks. They should also provide evidence on the volumes and where the claimed hoarding and illegal sales (selling previously purchased alcohol at high prices) is taking place”.

“We also wish to point out that the primary task of the Excise Department and its spokesperson is enforcing the laws related to alcohol in Sri Lanka, especially the laws on illicit alcohol. If they know the extents and the locations of production and the points of sale so precisely, they should be raiding such locations and prosecuting the perpetrators, rather than issuing press statements helpful to the alcohol industry, and at the same time implying the Department cannot enforce its own mandate”, the SLMA continued, it said.

Groups that use illegal alcohol is very different from the groups consuming legal alcohol. Very few people who consume legal alcohol will turn to illegal alcohol when there is a scarcity or a price increase, it pointed out.

The Excise Department also claims that large amounts of money is lost to the government as tax revenue during this period. This is only one side of the story. Studies in Sri Lanka has shown that the annual economic costs of alcohol far outweighs the tax income. Therefore, each day that alcohol is not sold in Sri Lanka will bring net economic benefits to the government and the people, it added.

The SLMA asked the government not to give permission for internet sales of alcohol which will make matters worse for all Sri Lankans already suffering from many hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic.

As it is well known that alcohol use is associated with poverty, violence against women, injuries, suicides and many illnesses, providing easy access to alcohol will amplify these problems at a time which is difficult for both the government and the people, it stressed.

Describing the online liquor sales idea as “inappropriate”, the GMOA pointed out that the move will worsen the Covid-19 crisis.

Expressing opposition to permitting alcohol to be sold at this juncture, the trade union’s president, Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, said it could undo a lot of good that had been done over the last year.

To the uninitiated, all the hullabaloo about liquor sales gives the impression that the government is trying to introduce alcohol to the country for the first time, a trade official commented.

As it is well known there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. The need of the hour is to be realistic and look at the bigger picture of a thriving illicit trade that’s claiming a heavy toll, he remarked.

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Foreign News

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dies aged 100




Henry Kissinger at the State Department's 230th anniversary celebrations in 2019

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has died at the age 100.

He served as America’s top diplomat and national security adviser during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

In a statement, Kissinger Associates, a political consulting firm he founded, said the German-born former diplomat died at his home in Connecticut but did not give a cause of death.

During his decades long career, Mr Kissinger played a key, and sometimes controversial, role in US foreign and security policy.

Born in Germany in 1973, Kissinger first came to the US in 1938 when his family fled Nazi Germany. He became a US citizen in 1943 and went on to serve three years in the US Army and later in the Counter Intelligence Corps. After earning bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees, he taught international relations at Harvard.

In 1969, then-President Richard Nixon appointed him National Security Adviser, a position which gave him enormous influence over US foreign policy in two administrations.


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Rupees 1,500 million allocated for ‘Greater Kandy Urban Development Program’ – State Minister for Provincial Councils and Local Government




State Minister for Provincial Council and Local Government  Janaka Wakkambura participating in a Press Briefing held at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) on Wednesday (29) under the theme ‘Collective Path to a Stable Country’,  announced that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has allocated Rs. 1,500 million for the “Greater Kandy Urban Development Program” in this year’s budget and that part of the allocation would to be utilized to develop the approach roads to Kandy City.

He also announced that the President had allocated  Rs. 1,000 million to develop tourism by enhancing facilities through the involvement of local government bodies.

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DMT unable to print nearly one million driving licences for want of blank cards



Racketeers thrive on illegal printing of DLs

By Shiran Ranasinghe

The Department of Motor Traffic was unable to print about 900,000 driving licences due for want of blank plastic cards, Commissioner General of the Department of Motor Traffic Nishantha Weerasinghe told The Island.

He said his Department was doing its best to solve the problem, which could be sorted out in six months or so.

A senior official on condition of anonymity said the Department now printed about 200 driving licences for those who were going abroad or engaged in essential services.

However, some racketeers were printing about 700 licences illegally, he said.

Rs 5,000 each was charged for issuing illegally printed licences, the official said.

Commenting on the allegations, the Commissioner General of the Department of Motor Traffic said he will investigate the matter if he receives a complaint officially.

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