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Mathata Thitha misunderstood says Minister
2008: Liquor production down
by 2 %, beer output up by 15%

Public Estate Management and Development Minister Milroy S. Fernando, yesterday said that he unequivocally appreciated President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Mathata Thitha’ campaign, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to deny the Sri Lankans a chance to enjoy at least an occasional drink.

The Puttalam District MP said that many had misunderstood the President’s concept as a campaign to bring down the licensed liquor manufacturers and thereby cause the collapse of the local liquor market. Had that happened, much needed revenue would be denied to the Treasury, he said, emphasising the importance of wiping out heroin, ganja, moonshine and particularly an organised racket in illegally producing a range of ‘licensed’ liquor products. According to him, a section of the officialdom too, had been involved in this lucrative racket and these ‘licensed’ products were sold through registered liquor outlets.

Responding to The Island queries, he said that due to severe shortage of toddy, both licensed and illegal liquor manufacturers had turned to man-made toddy. Had law enforcement and Excise officials bothered to conduct raids in toddy producing areas, they would come across large stocks of sugar and an ingredient used in bread making stored at some places, the Minister said. According to him, they were used to produce artificial toddy primarily needed to make ‘pol’ arrack (coconut arrack).

He said that the government should go all out against the illegal manufactures. He said that at least one or two brands should be affordable to ordinary people. He said that the price of a bottle of DCSL gal arrack had been shot up to Rs. 595 though some other local products were relatively cheaper. He said that some of those who publicly called for eradication of liquor and cigarettes enjoy expensive foreign products at the taxpayer’s expense. The minister said that he knew two well known social workers who regularly smoked but talked as if they would not touch a cigarette.

Sky rocketing price of liquor and cigarettes due to heavy taxes would only drive the ordinary people to the illegal market, he said urging the government to explore the possibility of attracting people to consume kithul toddy.

Excise Commissioner D.G.M.V.Hapua-rachchi yesterday told The Island that there had been a significant drop in the consumption of liquor last year. Asked whether the same trend could be maintained this year, he said that he could not release data immediately.

Minister Fernando said that his colleagues, too, should discuss this issue.

According to 2008 administrative report of the Excise Commissioner presented in Parliament recently, the production of hard liquor recorded a two per cent decrease though beer production increased in 2008. The Excise Chief revealed that 45.7 million proof litres had been produced in 2008 whereas the previous year recorded 47.2 million proof litres. But consumption of beer has recorded a 15 per cent increase with the 2008 recording a staggering 57.2 million proof litres production. 2007 had recorded only 49.7 million proof litres production.

2008: Excise revenue Rs 27,436 million

The Excise Department has earned for the government by way of taxes on the local industry Rs. 27,436.152 million in 2008. According to the 2008 administrative report of the Excise Commissioner, since 2001 the Department had rapidly increased revenue with last year recording over Rs. 3,000 million increase in revenue compared with 2007.

A further Rs. 623 million has been collected by way of fines and licence fees in 2008. The entire amount has been credited to the Provincial Council Fund.

The Department has issued only 36 new licenses last year. According to the 2008 report, 22 companies were involved in the production of liquor last year, including two based in the Jaffna peninsula, namely, Valikamam Distilleries, Chankarni and Thikkam Distilleries, Point Pedro.

Minister Milroy Fernando said that it would be a mistake to destroy the regular market with rapidly increasing taxes. -SF

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