The Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention is the premier Sri Lankan interlocutor for evidence-based policy measures and community-based interventions to prevent and reduce harm caused by alcohol and other drugs. This institution comes under the purview of President Maithripala Sirisena.
- There is allocation from the Budget for tourist guest houses to sell beer without licences
- The official tourist receipts for 2016 were estimated to be Rs. 512,293 million
- The number of tourists who claimed that they had enjoyed alcoholic beverages was very low
The Director to the President, Presidential Task Force, Dr. Samantha Kumara Kithalawaarachchi, made his comments in response to the Budget 2018, presented by Minister of Finance and Media, focusing on the reduction of tax on beer. According to Budget 2018 beer will enjoy a 40 percent reduction in tax. There is also an allocation from the Budget for tourist guest houses to sell beer without possessing licences. This proposal totally contradicts Government policy as envisaged by the Presidential Task Force for Alcohol and Drug Prevention.
The Minister has claimed the following to justify this decision-
- 49 percent, or 1 in 2 alcohol users in Sri Lanka use Kassippu,
- In other countries the majority of alcohol users use beer unlike Sri Lanka where the majority use spirits therefore beer prices should be reduced,
- Alcohol should be freely available to become a ‘modern’ country, a country which is still not in the stone age or (galyugaya),
- If we increase the price of spirits instead of decreasing the price of beer to move those using spirits to using beer, Sri Lanka will become like Saudi Arabia,
- Taxation on alcohol should be based on the alcohol content of the beverage and therefore the taxation on beer should be reduced.
The Presidential Task Force on drug prevention conducted a survey this year, in collaboration with the Rajarata University to ascertain preferences of tourists visiting Sri Lanka and their attitude towards alcohol policies implemented in the country.
According to recent Central Bank reports, tourism is placed in third place bypassing traditional exports, seconding it only to migrant workers and the garment industry.
In other words, the official tourist receipts for 2016 were estimated to be Rs. 512,293 million as compared to Rs. 405,492 million in 2015, showing an increase of 26 percent.
According to the statistics released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the numbers had increased to 2,050,832 in 2016. There is a 14 percent increase compared to the figures of 2015. Thus it’s clear that tourism plays an important role as one of the core sources of foreign exchange earners in Sri Lanka’s economy and this growth should be maintained for national development.
There were many proposals to promote Sri Lanka as an attractive place for tourists in the lines of development of infrastructure, facilities and services available.
No access to alcohol
Another proposal suggested that the access that tourists have to alcohol should be increased by reducing tax and increasing access points. This proposal highlighted that the majority of tourists are experiencing difficulties with no access to alcohol, hence the country may lose tourists in the future. However this is a speculative statement and lacks evidence based information.
Hence this study was conducted to collect firsthand evidence from tourists themselves about their preferences and their idea behind visiting Sri Lanka. The study also reveals the perception of foreigners for potential development and improvements to be made in the tourism sector in Sri Lanka.
The geographical area covered by this study included Anuradhapura, Kandy, Trincomalee, Batticaloa/Passikuda, Negombo, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Galle and Colombo.
The tourists were randomly selected for the survey from hotels, restaurants and other visiting places. Prior to asking questions, they were given a brief description of the nature of the survey.
The participants at the survey numbered 302 (representing both sexes) whose ages ranged between 18 - 78 years. These tourists came from a range of 38 countries. There were citizens from Britain, Netherlands, Australia, France, China, Russia, Poland, Holland, Thailand, Belgium and USA.
Following inquiries it was found that nearly 90 percent of the tourists were attracted to natural beauty, wildlife, beaches and the opportunities to visit ancient places. In addition, some have enjoyed a variety of spicy food items. But the number of tourists who claimed that they had enjoyed alcoholic beverages was very low.
According to them the main problems that plagued them were traffic and poor public transport. They also said that they were concerned about diseases and issues related to hygiene.
The number of tourists who had complains regarding access to alcohol was less than 3 percent. However as much as 12 percent reported on issues relating to harassment by street vendors, problems with guides and tuk tuk drivers, lack of facilities to purchase tickets, difficulty in obtaining correct information when visiting places due to communication problems and the unavailability of basic facilities such as washrooms.
More than 88 percent of tourists were optimistic about their next visit to Sri Lanka, but the rest weren’t. Those who were optimistic of their next visit stated that they were attracted by the natural beauty, beaches, wildlife, history and the country’s culture. A few were avaricious of Sri Lankan cuisine.
Most of the participants suggested developing roads and transport facilities and a few wanted safety assurances apart from improvements in hotel accommodation. Only 7 percent suggested they wished to have better access to alcohol.
Public smoking and drinking
When asked for their opinion on tobacco and alcohol policies in Sri Lanka, particularly about the ban on public smoking and drinking, more than 90 percent of them gave their approval.
Based on the findings of this survey, it is quite clear that tourists who visit Sri Lanka don’t consider alcohol or the availability of alcohol as a cause for their visits.
The Presidential Task Force on drug prevention is also working closely with the Police and the Divisional Secretariats spread across the country to monitor the use of ‘kassippu’ (illicit liquor) and they are presented with relevant records quarterly. According to these observations, it is very clear that the use of kassippu has significantly dropped.
No person consuming Kassippu would start drinking beer and by increasing the availability of alcohol for tourists and simplifying the liquor licence system would only cause local alcohol consumption to increase. Beer is the gateway to hard drugs. Reduction in the price of beer will only result in increase in both the production and consumption of the product.
This measure will not reduce the consumption of hard liquor and illicit brew or Kassippu, as people from different ages and social strata consume different brews. Increased alcohol consumption is a burden to a country as the Government has to end up spending more than the revenue it collects by way of taxes on alcohol on treating people afflicted with alcohol related diseases.
Introducing the measure to cut down the consumption of hard liquor and reduce the production of illicit brew such as Kassippu, the Finance Minister in 1996, reduced the price of beer considerably. As a result of this short-sighted policy to reduce the price of beer, the consumption of beer increased by 52.3 percent over the next 10 years. During this time the population increase was only 13.8 percent. Meanwhile, the consumption of arrack also rose and the production of Kassippu too increased. It encouraged young people to drink more beer of higher concentration due to the low cost. The total consumption of beer in 2015 was 126 million litres.
The policy makers of this country should know that alcohol consumption is a major health and social problem. The extent of the damage is reflected in the rising incidence of hospital admissions due to alcohol related diseases, rising incidence of road traffic accidents, violence and homicide, rising incidence of sexual abuse and violence against women and children and the deterioration of moral and spiritual values observed in the society.
The Government should give priority and more consideration to do the right thing, i.e. by increasing taxes on alcohol and reducing its availability.