Finance Minister urged to go soft on local hard liquor
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.