Text and photo by Prageeth Janaka
A group of monks led by Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero, the Sangha Nayaka of the Dakshina Lanka chapter of Ramanya Nikaaya on Thursday asked the government to withdraw its approval to open three new distilleries.
Addressing a press conference in Embilipitiya, Ven Sobitha Thero said that by approving such decisions, the Cabinet of Ministers encourages a culture of drunkenness in the country which will lead to the collapse of social values.
Ven Sobitha Thero questioned the purpose behind the government’s interest in granting such licenses and a drunken culture in the country, and alleged that it was reminiscent of the colonial strategy to distract the public from real governance issues and of failure.
“Today people are struggling to eat and drink, there is not enough fuel and hard currency, and the economy is in tatters. In such a situation, why is the Ministry of Finance so eager to license alcohol production? How can you solve people’s problems with alcohol, ”he asked.
He added that such actions were against the principles of Buddhism and added that the World Health Organization had also pointed out that alcohol consumption increased by around 95% in Sri Lanka against a world average of 55%.
Ven Sobitha Thero said several new liquor licenses were to be issued by the finance ministry taking into account new applications submitted by local businesses, including two licensed liquor companies. At present, 24 licensed companies continue to produce alcohol in the country and if the number of license holders increases, Sri Lanka will face socio-economic and cultural challenges. Even now, the country’s alcohol production exceeds demand, and the increase in the number of licensees will have disastrous effects during the third wave of the pandemic.
Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana recently told parliament that the finance ministry was considering completing preparatory work to process license applications for these alcohol giants.
According to statistics tabled by the SJB Member of the House, Sri Lanka has around 24 alcohol license holders. However, data showed that only five of those 24 companies contribute 95% of the tax revenue generated by the country’s overall liquor industry.
The rest of the 19 producers either do not make large profits or escape paying tax by not keeping proper books.