A government must not encourage its citizens to consume alcohol  
Posted on November 23rd, 2017

Chanaka Bandarage

Dr NM Perera balanced his budgets largely by increasing alcohol and cigarette prices.

Worldwide, governments use alcohol to increase its revenue base.  Very seldom would a government lower the price of alcohol.

In the recently delivered budget, Sri Lanka went against this trend and reduced the price of beer. This is very strange.

Sri Lanka is embroiled in a gigantic debt trap, it is looking for every possible avenue to enhance its coffers. Thus, the right thing that the government should have done was  either to increase the price of alcohol or keep them the same.  The government surprised everyone by reducing the price of beer and gave strange reasons for same.

The government states that based on a private research done by an university academic 49% of Sri Lanka’s alcohol consumption is ‘kassippu’ or similar illicit brews, and to contain this, it wants to reduce the price of beer.

This research finding has not been authenticated by anyone, including the Colombo University where  the academic in question is teaching. The remarkable thing is that the academic’s finding was published in ‘Lankadeepa’ on 8 November 2017, the budget was handed down on 9 November 2019. Is the government stating that it decided  to reduce the price of beer within 24 hours of reading the newspaper article?

Also, it is ludicrous to expect kassippu drinkers to switch to beer drinking.   Surely, the government ought to know better.

This is a clear case of the government ‘mixing apples and oranges’.

Empirical research shows that the country’s kassippu production and consumption  has markedly come down. Unlike in  the old days, due to deforestation, there are not many jungle type land available to produce kassippu. Furthermore, there are so many varieties of distilled alcoholic beverages at competitive prices readily available in so many pubs and bars in the country.  Put simply, people do not dwell on kassippu now like the Dr NM Perera days.  The Sri Lankan Police would have advised the government  – the country’s kassippu consumption is not a big problem now as the production is very low.

The government seems to believe that promoting beer among the populace, a non spirited alcohol, is the right thing to do at the moment. This is showing lack of common sense and that it is out of touch with the average Sri Lankan.  It may have had other sinister motives to decrease the beer price such as  listening to the powerful beer manufacturing companies; we are unable to comment about this.

Dilrook Kannangara in para 2 of his article published in Lankaweb on 12 November 2017 titled  ‘Taxing Sinhalese to Pay Tamils’ states Considering the fact that almost all beer manufacturers in the island are Tamil owned businesses, the budget proposes to reduce the price of beer while increasing the price of soft drinks!”. If this is true, this is a serious situation that warrants investigation.

Is it lobbying by these elements that led the government to make its decision?

Does the government knowingly encourage beer manufacturing companies to promote beer consumption in the country?

We have an oversupply of bars, taverns and other alcohol consumption places in the country. Today, most of the bar licences in Sri Lanka are owned by politicians.  For example, of the 33 new bar permits issued in the Uva province during the previous government, almost all have been issued  to politicians.

A glimpse of a  bar located in a city or a town in the country on any working day late afternoon/evening would reveal that they are jam packed and the majority of the patrons are Sinhalese. They largely consist of lower and middle level  government servants. There are others like mercantile sector employees, merchants and labourers.  On a proportionate basis, one could see less of the other two ethnic groups – Tamils and Muslims.  The minorities, being intelligent and sensible,  spend the evening with their spouses and children in their own homes.

Most patrons would not stop from a single glass of beer as our Finance Minister would expect them to be. Lots of people drink heavily until late in the evening.  Of those who drink beer, on  average, one would consume two bottles. They would leave the bar in a drunken state; it is their wives and children at home who would take the brunt of their excessive drinking (in western countries it is an offence on the part of the bar licence owner to sell liquor to an already drunken customer).

Today there is a wrong perception that it is the local brews that are bad, drinking imported spirits and beer are alright. Women who traditionally do not drink in our society, are more and more encouraged to drink beer and wine.

It has come to a situation that in order to be sociable or fashionable, one needs to  drink imported spirits wine or beer moderately.

By dropping the beer price and making statements such as ‘rather than drinking a sweetened drink it is better to drink a glass of beer’,  does the government try to say that moderate drinking of alcohol is alright (have they forgotten that we are not a western society?).

Is this the message that the government wants to give to future generations?

Does the government acknowledge that it has a moral and a legal responsibility to promote a healthier lifestyle among its citizens?

Does the government acknowledge that if consumed in excess, alcohol can cause diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart problems, and chronic respiratory problems, which are responsible for more than half of the country’s deaths?

The writer acknowledges that in the growing middle class of today alcohol drinking has increasingly become a socially acceptable phenomenon. The writer believes this is a sad development (thankfully smoking is much reduced now).  Many public events such as exhibitions and carnivals (including in schools), cricket/rugby matches have beer stalls established  among other stalls. In Premadasa Stadium due to noise by the drunken crowds, it is difficult for anyone to concentrate and seriously watch a limited over cricket match. Rather than watching the match, the drunken spectators who continuously keep standing, engage in constant  singing and dancing.  It is a sad sight to see school age like young people freely  buying beer from the abundance of beer stalls set out throughout the cricket stadium. Most probably  their parents are in the dark about their children’s behaviour.

Anagarika Dharmapala fought most of his adult life preaching people to refrain from drinking alcohol, introduced to us by our colonial rulers. His temperance movement, launched in 1895, was seen by the British rulers as a direct attack on their regime which received large scale revenue from taverns.  At that time of the launch, there were 2,038 taverns; after the agitations, there was a drastic drop to 190. In the 21st century prominent people who fought vehemently against alcohol drinking include Walisinghe Harischandra, FR Senanayake, DB Jayatilleka, DS Senanayake, Piyadasa Sirisena, John de Silva, Arthur V Dias, R Premadasa, Prins Gunasekera, Ven Kalu Kondayave Pannasekera, Ven Madihe Pannaseeha and Ven Madhuluwawe Sobitha.

The governments ought to consider drinking alcohol as a major social problem. Police will testify that most road accident are caused by drunk drivers. In western countries there is a zero tolerance on drink driving. Such drivers are subjected to automatic disqualification from driving.  Having represented hundreds of drunk drivers in the Australian Courts system, the writer has a very good knowledge about drink driving and the very stringent drink driving laws operate in that country.  In Australia, a first time offender who has driven with a 0.15 blood alcohol level can receive a jail sentence up to 9 months, a licence disqualification up to 3 years and a fine exceeding $3,000. This shows how seriously they take drink driving. In Sri Lanka we still follow rudimentary ways of catching drunk drivers. Some Police Constables, without having breathalysers, try to detect them by  smelling alcohol in their breath.

One Response to “A government must not encourage its citizens to consume alcohol  ”

  1. Christie Says:

    බියර් මිල, මත්තල වී. බැන්කු ප්‍රෝඩාව ඔක්කොම එකම බැරල් එකේ ගෝඩා.

    සින්හල අපි රා කටටකුත් මස් හරි මාලු කෑල්ලකුත් කාල සුදියෙ හිටපු උන්.

    සුද්ද තමයි රා කට්ටටත් බදු ගැහැව්වෙ ඉන්දියනු පරපෝසිත්යො එක්ක එකතු වෙලා.

    ඇන් ඇම් කාරයත් බියර් එකට අරක්කු බෝතෙලෙට කෙලිය මොකද ඒ කලෙ කස්සිපු පෙරන්න සක්කර ගෙනාවෙ ඉන්දියන් කාරයෝ. උන් තමයි සමාජ වඩයන්ට සල්ලි දුන්නෙ දේසපාලනය කරන්න.

    මම පුන්චිකාලෙ ගෙදරට රා මුට්ටිය කිතුල් ගහයට ඉඳල අරන් ආවේ.

    ඔට්ටෙලියාවේ .05 වෙනකන් ගහල එලවන්න පුලුවන්.

    බටහිරත් ඉස්සර අපි වගෙ කාල බීල .කල ඉන්න මිනිස්සු.

    අද ප්‍රස්නය බියර් හදන ඉන්දියන් කාරයන්ට රජය වරම් දෙන එකයි.

    නැතුවත් බැහැනෙ මේක ඉන්දියන් කාරයන්ගෙනෙ.

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