Mervyn orders liquor ban in Kelaniya

By Chris Kamalendran

Liquor shops and restaurants selling liquor in the Kelaniya electorate were closed down indefinitely yesterday on an unofficial order by area strongman Mervyn Silva, who was elected to parliament with more than 150,000 preference votes at the April 8 general elections.

The order promoted even leading supermarkets to close down their liquor sections, awaiting instructions from their management. Excise Chief Wasantha Hapuarachchi is due to take up the matter with the Presidential Secretariat and the Finance Ministry tomorrow.

"So far nobody has complained to me about this unofficial ban. Therefore I cannot respond immediately. But I am aware of the situation that has arisen in Kelaniya," he said. The Excise Chief said individuals could not take decisions regarding the closure of liquor shops and it should be a government decision.

However, Mr. Silva defending his move told the Sunday Times yesterday that he would go ahead with his plans not only to close down liquor shops, but also crack down on illegal liquor sales, places of ill-fame and gambling centres in his electorate.

"I want Kelaniya declared as a sacred city when the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha Jayanthi is celebrated in the country," he said. Mr. Silva said he would be meeting with representatives of liquor restaurant and shop license holders for a discussion next week and they would be officially informed about his decision.

He said the public had been informed about the decision on Friday. "If anybody wants to challenge me, he can go to courts. I am ready to face him in courts or face any consequences," he explained.

Meanwhile, liquor shop and liquor-selling restaurant owners in Kelaniya and Kiribathgoda reacted angrily yesterday. They said they were incurring heavy losses due to this illegal decision taken during the festive season.

One supermarket manager said liquor sales normally amounted to about Rs. 400,000 a day and they had to turn away hundreds of customers.

When a Sunday Times team visited the area we found that Mr Silva had deployed his close associates near liquor shops and restaurants to ensure that no liquor was sold.

Meanwhile a leading hotelier in the area said that most of the restaurants and hotels in Kelaniya and Kiribathgoda had obtained Tourist Board permits under which they were allowed to serve liquor and the unofficial ban might be a move to cancel those licences and issue fresh ones.

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