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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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Shocking 17,500 video clips of Lankan children being sexually abused

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By Norman Palihawadane

There were over 17,500 video clips of Sri Lankan children being sexually abused, on the Internet and action had been taken to arrest those responsible, Police Spokesman Senior DIG Ajith Rohana said yesterday. The Sri Lanka Police had sought the assistance of international law enforcement agencies and the Internet service providers to track down the persons involved in uploading those video clips and child sex trafficking via internet, the SDIG said.

Crimes against children in Sri Lanka were rising at an alarming speed, the SDIG said.

The police would conduct a special awareness programme together with the National Child Protection Authority to curb the alarming trend, he said.

The first programme was held recently in Nuwara Eliya where it especially focused apprising police officers attached to that Division.

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Private buses to insist that inter-provincial commuters carry proof of vaccination?

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A limited number of Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and National Transport Commission (NTC) buses and trains would maintain limited inter- provincial operation from 01 August, State Minister of Transport, Dilum Amunugma said.

The State Minister said that certified documents issued by the respective depot superintendents and the letters of approval by the NTC were mandatory, he added.

“The buses and trains will be permitted to operate only in the morning and in the evening for office workers,” Amunugma said.

The State Minister added that passengers should behave responsibly when using the inter-provincial transport services and understand that those services were only for commuters engaged in essential services.

“The Delta variant is spreading rapidly. If one infected passenger travels in a bus, all other commuters will contract it” he warned.

The Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) has decided to make proof of vaccination compulsory for inter provincial travel from 01 August

LPBOA President Gemunu Wijeratne said they had written to the President and Transport Minister asking for permission to enforce it.

Wijeratne said that all bus operators in the Western Province should ensure they were inoculated by August 15.

 

 

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TNA Leader complains against appointing Sinhala officers to Tamil areas

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader, R. Sampanthan had written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, objecting to the appointment of Sinhala government officers to the Northern Province, former TNA MP Mavai Senathirajah told journalists on Wednesday (28.)

The President and the Prime Minister are appointing officials violating democratic principles, Senathirajah said after a meeting of party activists at Karachchi Divisional Secretariat Office, Kilinochchi.

“A lot of Sinhalese are appointed to the North and the East. They must appoint Tamils. These appointments undermine our struggle for a just language policy,” he said.

Senathirajah said that it was customary to appoint Tamil officers to Tamil majority areas. However, this tradition was being violated increasingly in recent times, the former MP said.

“The TNA has nothing against Sinhala government officers. However, appointing Sinhala state officers to majority Tamil areas is a great injustice to the people. So, our leader has written to the President and the Prime Minister asking them to stop this practice,” he said.

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