A not so shocking disclosure | Daily News

A not so shocking disclosure

It is official. According to Sabaragamuwa Province Governor Dhamma Dissanayake, 90 percent of the Wine Stores and liquor outlets countrywide are owned by the politicians. Speaking at a local school function, the Governor said if politicians stop engaging in the liquor business 90% of the taverns in the country could be closed.

Certainly Governor Dissanayake would not have made this disclosure without knowing the facts. In fact he had only confirmed what is already public knowledge - that politicians are neck deep in the liquor trade. The Governor's revelation also goes on to expose the empty rhetoric that was the mathata thitha programme of Mahinda Rajapaksa. All this 90% of the country's liquor outlets run by politicians could not have sprung up overnight but certainly date back to the days of the Rajapaksa Government. Nay, it was a case of thithata matha (liquor galore). The revelation is also an eye opener for our Bikkhus and other religious leaders, who, day in and day out, wax eloquent on the evils of alcohol. They now know to whom their wrath should be directed. Even the President's efforts at combating the alcohol problem is doomed to failure without first putting his own house in order. There is no point in preaching on the evils of alcohol when the State itself, represented by members of Parliament, is promoting alcohol consumption in a big way (90%).

It also appears that all the hard work put in by the redoubtable Prof. Carlo Fonseka to wean the population of the alcohol habit has come to naught, what with the State itself promoting the booze. Why, even the Sathosa outlets sell liquor, demonstrating the hypocritical nature of the State whose leaders are at the same time carrying out campaigns against the evils of alcohol. Could anything be more funnier?

It also shows up the hypocrisy of 90% of our tavern owner MPs, a majority of whom are practitioners of Buddhism which is not compatible with the sale and promotion of alcohol in any form. It was said that there was a Minister of Buddha Sasana, no less, a couple of decades ago who owned a string of liquor shops in his home province. No wonder raids on liquor shops which infringe excise laws are few and far between. Which excise or police officer would want to get on the wrong side of politicians?

The best option, we feel, is to let go of all pretenses and pull down all restrictions governing the sale and use of alcohol. The late Harold Herath who hailed from an electorate known for its profusion of imbibers once called for the legalization of moonshine, or, kassippu as it is locally known, so that the brew could be produced under a standard procedure as a cottage industry in his electorate. Of course he received a shelling from Premadasa and had to withdraw the proposal. Minister Mangala Samaraweera who is not averse to stepping on forbidden ground, time and again, called for the lifting of all restrictions surrounding alcohol and even went so far to suggest the opening of liquor outlets on Poya days which drew howls of protest from the Sangha community.

Human beings are creatures of habit and it is well neigh impossible to wean away those hooked on the booze. Even the price stick employed from time to time to discourage alcohol consumption had failed to work, going by the ever rising figures of imbibers, as statistics show. Prof. G.L. Peiris, when he was Deputy Finance Minister in the Chandrika Government, proposed the reduction in the price of beer on the basis of soft liquor being less injurious to the human system while at the same time keeping excise revenue intact due to the potential rise in numbers of beer drinkers due to the low price. The idea may have worked, except that those addicted to hard liquor would not switch to the softer stuff as any drinker of the more potent arrack would vouch for.

Hence, the Government should not tamper with the existing liquor policies by introducing harsher measures in the hope that this will arrest alcohol consumption in the country. Besides, all Governments have been heavily relying on the massive excise revenue to fill the depleted coffers. This, while waging war on alcohol, all the time. True, treatment of alcohol related diseases make a not inconsiderable hole in the national health budget that eats into the gains from excise revenue. But at the same time Governments periodically jack up the liquor prices as this Government has done once again for the umpteenth time.

Be that as it may, the Sabaragamuwa Governor's revelation has given the lie to the claim by some MPs that they could not exist on their Parliament salaries. It was only the other day that UPFA Anuradhapura District MP S.C. Muthukumarana lamented that MPs representing rural electorates were in debt and would soon have to seek the good offices of the Debt Reconciliation Board to get them bailed out. It is not known if Muthukumarana was a beneficiary of a liquor licence and owned a Wine Store. Perhaps not.


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