ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 47

Liquor ban and the boon to blackmarketeers

By Nalaka Nonis

The Government’s move to announce the closure of liquor shops for the traditional New Year just a day before it was done contributed to a lower consumption of liquor by the public. Black marketeers however thrived having a field day through the sale of the product at higher prices. Licensed dealers urged greater surveillance by the Excise Department and urged police to crack down on the malpractice in future.

The Excise Department said between the 12th to 15th April, the period during which sale of liquor was banned, it had raided 829 places in the country where liquor was being sold illegally.

Ven. Athuraliya spearheaded the liquor ban

According to departmental statistics 268 cases of illegal liquor sales were reported from the Western Province, while Wayamba and the Central Province reported 236 and 111 cases respectively.

In addition police sssaid they had conducted raids around the country except in the north and east. The Police Department said it had brought to book 2,078 illegal liquor sellers while there were also 358 reported cases of gambling, 136 cases of tobacco sales, 133 cases of drunk driving and 50 cases of persons involved in drinking in public.

However despite these raids and arrests, many hotels, wine stores, restaurants, clubs and even cinema halls were involved in the illicit sale of liquor at exorbitant prices. Most of the customers were people who had not purchased sufficient stocks due to the sudden closure of liquor shops.

Some dealers sold liquor at three times the market price. In one instance a bottle of Extra Special Arrack (Gal) was sold at an astounding price of Rs. 1,200/-, whereas its market price was a mere Rs. 385/-.

Many liquor outlets moved their products to houses or little shops arousing little suspicion of the Excise and Police Department, while some liquor shops resorted to backdoor sales of liquor.

In one case a well-known wine store at Ja-ela emptied its stocks of liquor from the shop and later sold it to customers through a house and few grocery shops in the area. In another instance a liquor dealer at Ragama delivered his ware to prospective customers at higher prices based on telephone calls.

Mr. M.V. Hapuarachchi, Excise Commissioner (Crimes and Training) said the decision to close liquor shops from April 12 to 15 was taken after the Committee “Mathata Thitha” (Full Stop to Alcoholism) –a Committee appointed by the President- made the request to his department.

He claimed the decision proved to be a success and could be judged by the fact the country experienced a considerable decrease in accidents and violence during the New Year period.The Commissioner pointed out that it was difficult to crack down on black market liquor dealers as his departmental staff had been reduced.

“We have about 1,000 officers in 50 stations around the country. They are doing a very good service but their numbers are insufficient to curb the menace of illicit liquor”, he pointed out.

Mr. Hapuarachchi said most of the people they arrested during the New Year season were moonshine liquor dealers, while a few were also licensed dealers who were involved in the illegal sale of liquor.

He denied the allegation leveled by some licensed liquor shop owners that his department had announced the closure of liquor shops just hours before the closure came into operation. He emphasised the department had made a prior announcement of the scheduled dates of closure.

DIG H.M.B. Ambanwala said that police were able to arrest a number of people who sold liquor illegally as well as persons involved in gambling and other malpractices during the New Year season. He added that closure of liquor shops on a short notice helped reduce the number of road accidents and violence in the country.

Ambanwala stated that the department had set up an Operations Room at Police Headquarters so that the public could provide information regarding places carrying out the sale of illicit liquor and gambling. He added that once information was received at the operations room, they conveyed it to the relevant police stations which in turn took steps to raid that place within 2 hours of receipt of the information.

MP Ven. Athuruliye Rathana Thera who heads the Committee on Mathata Thitha told The Sunday Times that they had requested the Excise Department to close liquor shops from April 12th to 15th.

Explaining the duties and objectives of his Committee, Ven. Athuruliye said they were acting to rehabilitate alcohol and drug addicts and were conducting anti drug and alcohol programs in schools. He mentioned the Committee had also launched a program to eradicate moonshine liquor from Sri Lanka by the end of this year.

Several franchise liquor dealers expressed their displeasure over the government’s decision to close their establishments at very short notice. They complained the measure had brought down sales during the peak season.

They stated that they were informed about the closure of shops on April 12th, only on the evening of April the 11th.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.