Mathata Titha or Tithata
has had no
effect on alcohol consumption
afterglow of crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), an euphoric President Mahinda Rajapakse
publicly declared his next war — this time against the
stuff that cheers.
Rajapakse did say that bending the elbow too often and
at great cost, both to the family kitty and to personal
health has become an unbeatable Sri Lankan habit and
dedicated himself to the task of rehabilitating this
nation in this respect.
the conduct of this particular war does not inspire
confidence or appears that easy. Going by the liquor
sales and imports that had steadily increased, the
government’s policy of Mathata Thitha (an end to
alcohol) appears ineffective. It also means, a core
aspect of Mahinda Chinthana being observed in the breach
and the President’s second war being already a lost one.
liquor imports, given Sri Lankans’ penchant for sipping
foreign brews, in 2005, liquor imports stood at
1,311,734.000 litres whereas in 2008, it was
1,748,094.000 litres and this fact, notwithstanding the
global economic recession, increased local taxes and
high cost of living that should have caused this nation
not to sip those expensive brews.
Irrespective of the economic conditions that prevailed,
in beer imports too there was a marked increased. In
2005, some 581,598.000 litres of beer were imported
while in 2008, it was 701,723.000 litres.
imported in 2005 accounted for 987,705.000 litres while
in 2008, the imports totaled to 919,470.000 litres,
recording a slight decrease. Wine imports have decreased
by 6.90% in 2008.
statistics just go to prove that Sri Lankans, however
economically burdened they may be, have demonstrated
resoluteness in being able to afford their liquors of
all types, irrespective of the place of manufacture.
all the rhetoric and pledges, when compared with
statistics on 2005 liquor imports, the following three
years show a steady increase. Foreign liquor imports
have increased by 3.13% in 2006, 63.97 in 2007 and
33.26% in 2008. As for beer imports, where the biggest
increase has taken place, 2006 showed a dramatic
increase in the percentage, 53.12%. In 2007, it was
another 36.79% increase and in 2008, it was 20.65%
wine imports, the increase was marginal in 2006, a mere
0.18%. However, in 2007, it was 10.16%.
all the professed commitment to being rid of alcohol
coupled with plans to declare alcohol free zones in
keeping with the Jathika Hela Urumaya’s concept of an
alcohol free island, the government has continued to
raise its revenue through duties levied on foreign
Revenue from liquor
2008 alone, the annual duty recovered from foreign
spirits was Rs. 383,483,118 while from beer, the state
made another Rs. 42,780,461 as duty. The duty levied on
foreign wines brought in another Rs. 259,320,718 in to
the government’s kitty.
roughly calculated, the difference between 2005 and 2008
in revenue raised from foreign spirits alone is well
over Rs. 100 million whereas from wine imports alone,
the increase is over Rs. 50 million.
then take a look at locally manufactured liquor, a key
source of income for a cash strapped economy. The local
arrack production in the year 2005 was 38,456,991.59
litres which increased to 44,940,756.96 litres the next
year. In 2007, arrack production reached an all time
high of 50,087,293.73 litres and in 2008, dropped
slightly to 45,910,161.38 litres.
Likewise, there had been a steady increase in beer
manufacturing as well. In 2005, 51,548,933.66 litres
were locally manufactured followed by 46,824,146.32
litres in 2006. The year next, the manufactured beer was
some 49,535,291.17 litres while in 2008, it was
wine production of course, the manufacturing statistics
vary significantly. In 2005, some 6,317.07 litres were
manufactured whereas in 2006, it shot up to 10,894.93
litres. The year next, local wine manufacturing rose to
45,172.87 litres and dropped to 8,271.41 litres in 2008.
it taken collectively, when compared to the 2005
manufacturing percentage, the overall liquor
manufacturing percentage has increased by 16.9% in 2006
which has shot up to 30.2% in 2007 and by 19.4% in 2008.
statistics do prove that the government’s much
publicised Rs. 20 million worth anti alcohol policy has
failed to bear fruit in practice, Commissioner General
of Excise, D.G.M.V. Hapuarachchi acknowledges with
concern that the production, consumption and sale of
alcohol products have steadily grown in recent years.
believes that people should not only be concerned about
their family budgets but also about their health, and
reminds the general public about the health risks
associated with liquor consumption.
Hapuarachchi does express shock that despite awareness
campaigns and policies that do not support intoxication
coupled with regular price revisions that should make
all types of liquors less affordable, consumers appeared
more determined to take the stuff that cheers
irrespective of the dent the practice may create in
their family kitty.
worrisome that illicit brews like moonshine too has
increased in manufacture,” he said explaining that the
Excise Department had a special 24 hour operational unit
to crack down on illicit brewing facilities.
According to Department statistics, from January to May
2009, the special unit has carried out some 20,473
successful raids. Between Wesak and Poson alone, the two
holy months for Buddhists, some 565 detections have been
made including a few narcotics incidents. “Moonshine
brewing is certainly on the increase,” he notes.
According to Deputy Finance Minister Ranjith
Siyambalapitiya, however it is a not a matter of the
government simply making money on foreign liquor imports
or the locally manufactured brews. “There appears to be
an increase, yes. But it is not the government policy.
We levy heavy import duty and tax local manufacturers.
But there is the tourism and hospitality industries that
require liquor to be made available,” he explained.
JVP’s Ranaweera Pathirana, a parliamentarian who has
consistently raised his voice against the ‘culture of
taverns’, the Mathata Thitha policy is a complete
is no genuine interest to implement the policy fully.
There are taverns in close proximity to schools and
places of worship still. Liquor permits are issued
incessantly, despite government rhetoric. We all know
that many government parliamentarians have sold their
liquor permits to make money while some operate their
own pubs. The undeniable truth is that there is no
commitment,” he insists.
As for the Rs. 20 million Mathata Thitha programme, it
is an attractive slogan to be used on election
platforms. Or interesting reading for those who still
wish to devour the Mahinda Chinthana.