Fi­nance Min­is­ter urged to go soft on lo­cal hard liquor

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - BUDGET NEWS/LOBBY - By Chan­dani Kirinde

A se­nior Govt min­is­ter yes­ter­day urged Fi­nance Min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera to re­duce the tax im­posed on lo­cal va­ri­eties of ar­rack (gal), which he de­scribed as the poor man’s drink.

“The de­ci­sion to re­duce the tax on beer is good. But the poorer sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, like those en­gaged in man­ual labour, plan­ta­tion work­ers and those who work in gem pits, do not drink beer, but pre­fer ‘gal’ ar­rack. How­ever, the price of this va­ri­ety of ar­rack has gone up steadily in re­cent years and due to this, poor peo­ple have got ad­dicted to all kinds of poi­sonous in­tox­i­cants," said Labour, Trade Union Re­la­tions & Sabaraga­muwa De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter of John Senevi­ratne.

In the Bud­get pre­sented on Thurs­day, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter an­nounced the Ex­cise (Spe­cial Pro­vi­sions) Duty ap­pli­ca­ble on canned beer will be re­moved, while ex­cise Du­ties will be levied on an al­co­hol vol­ume based sys­tem, de­pend­ing on the type of liquor. Ac­cord­ing to this sys­tem too, the levy on hard liquor will be Rs 3,300 per litre of al­co­hol, while that on beer and wine will be Rs 2,400 per litre.

Min­is­ter Senevi­ratne said he is not a pro­po­nent of al­co­hol, but what­ever pro­grammes the Govt in­tro­duces to dis­cour­age peo­ple from drink­ing, peo­ple who want to con­sume al­co­hol will do so. Dur­ing the for­mer regime, we started the 'math­ata thitha' pro­gramme which was a fail­ure," he said.

The Min­is­ter speak­ing dur­ing the Sec­ond Read­ing de­bate of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tion Bill said, "Hav­ing a drink after a hard day’s work was part of the lives of peo­ple in the lower strata of so­ci­ety. There is no pur­pose in try­ing to teach a crab to walk straight. We must re­al­ize these ground re­al­i­ties. There is no point mak­ing po­lices that drive these peo­ple to­wards il­licit brews which poi­son and kill them,” he said.

He urged the min­is­ter to re­duce the tax on the lo­cal va­ri­eties of hard liquor. "If nec­es­sary, in­crease the tax on whisky and I will put for­ward this pro­posal to my party, the ap­proval of which I will sub­mit to the Fi­nance Min­is­ter,” he said.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Sa­ma­raweera said on Fri­day that the tax on beer was re­duced to dis­cour­age peo­ple from con­sum­ing hard liquor.

“In many coun­tries, about 80% of the pop­u­la­tion drinks beer. But, in our coun­try, the sit­u­a­tion is the op­po­site. Around 84% of our peo­ple drink hard liquor. I do not see any­thing wrong in a per­son drink­ing a beer or two.” he said.

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