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COVID-19 Prevention Task Force vetoes online liquor sales move

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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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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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