Consider this proposal | Daily News

Consider this proposal

Tourism State Minister Diana Gamage has a penchant for swimming against the current and becoming the butt end of criticism particularly from Buddhist clergy, morality preachers and traditionalists. There was a chorus of protests at her proposal to permit the cultivation of Cannabis (Ganja) as an export crop. She also invited the wrath of some for suggesting that Colombo be made an ‘All Night Zone’, i.e. to permit casinos, night clubs and massage parlours etc. to operate freely as a means of attracting big-spending foreigners and bringing in Dollars.

Her latest suggestion is for bars and liquor shops to be kept open 24/7 if the country wants to boost tourism. “We have to keep these places open day and night. Liquor is the highest tax earner in the country. In this paradise we close bars after 11 p.m. (Wine Stores after 9 p.m.) Foreigners in hotels cannot get any alcohol if they need, because all the places are closed,” she said.

There is bound to be mixed reactions to Diana’s latest proposal. She will no doubt be denounced by the clergy of all religions and moral preachers, but will be the toast of all tipplers who presently have to pay double the price for their after hours booze, sold on the sly.

But we feel that she is only being practical. Earlier, a similar suggestion was mooted by the late Minister Mangala Samaraweera only to be shot down by former President Maithripala Sirisena. In fact, Samaraweera wanted liquor outlets to be kept open even on Poya days. There was an uproar from the Buddhist clergy, with Samaraweera being taken to the cleaners.

However, one should face the facts. The stark reality is that the authorities are being hypocritical in enforcing restrictions on the sale of alcohol. What is the whole purpose of closing wine stores after 9 p.m. while alcohol is sold for 12 solid hours (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) prior to that. During that period the people have all the time to riot and misbehave if this in fact is the reason for the authorities to limit the hours alcohol is being sold.

Most countries have no time restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Besides, the Government is in dire need of foreign exchange and it is not in a position to weigh options but should look at things from a practical point of view.

Like State Minister Gamage noted, foreign visitors cannot obtain a drink late in the night because bars and restaurants are closed and they will be forced to look for other destinations which do not have such restrictions. The authorities should seriously consider doing away with all taboos and restrictions now in place, in keeping with the efforts being made to draw in tourists. There can be no halfway house in this regard. The time has come to choose between upholding cultural values, traditions and moral standards etc. and uplifting the economy.

Like State Minister Gamage observed, clinging on to the 2,500-year-old historical values has not got this country anywhere and the time has come to break down all barriers that have impeded the country’s progress. Like Sri Lanka, Thailand is a majority Buddhist country but alcohol can be served until 2 a.m. and even convenience stores such as 7/11 can sell alcohol.

No doubt the Mathata Thitha (Full Stop to Alcohol) advocates would put a spanner in the works and come out roaring against the woman MP. But we should stop wearing blinkers and open our minds to the hard reality. The country is in dire need of financial resources and priority should be given to this aspect.

There will also be those who will contend that alcohol addiction would soar if bars are kept open at all times. But this could in fact be limited to star class hotels which are mostly frequented by foreigners. Another alternative is to make alcohol available only on a “room service” basis after 11 p.m.

Some experts have suggested that beer (and maybe wine) sales should be permitted sans a license on a 24/7 basis, while still applying the existing laws to hard liquor. However, all wine stores could also be permitted to operate up to 11 p.m., in line with the taverns which are now known to make a fast buck on retail sales after 9 p.m.

Besides, keeping wine stores and taverns open for longer hours, if not 24/7, will help imbibers to purchase legal alcohol instead of moonshine, which is available round the clock. The Government should also reduce excise taxes on legal alcohol, as high prices have driven many to rotgut. Any revenue gains from the higher excise taxes go straight for the treatment of illicit liquor addicts who get various alcohol-induced diseases.

All rulers in the past, although enjoining people to refrain from alcohol use, nevertheless made the most of this liquor addiction to swell Government coffers. Then why not keep bars and wine stores open for longer hours? The truth is that Governments are heavily dependent on excise revenue to stay afloat economically. A more rational alcohol policy is thus sorely needed.



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