Excise trade unions have raised serious concerns over an attempt by the Ministry of Finance to urge the department to issue liquor licenses on a large scale to several hundred presently unlicensed hoteliers and innkeepers in the Matara District on an urgent basis, during a special two-day mobile service to be held in Weligama over the weekend.
A programme has been organised by the Ministry of Finance with the Enterprise Sri Lanka Exhibition scheduled to take place in Weligama tomorrow (23) and the day after (24) targeting hundreds of entrepreneurs, especially in the tourism and hospitality industry in the Matara District.
Various programmes related to the theme will coincide with the exhibition, whilst the Ministry is giving some serious thought to granting liquor licenses to over 500 unlicensed liquor merchants irrespective of their standards or qualifications, to receive an Excise License as per the Excise Ordinance, the Trade Unions claim.
The TU spokespersons told the Daily Mirror that the Finance Ministry has resorted to this move since close to 400 raids have been carried out in the Matara District, especially in densely populated tourism zones such as Weligama and Mirissa, by the Excise, Police and Police Special Task Force (STF) for unlawful sale of liquor in the last few weeks.
The growing number of raids on various small-scale hotels, guest-houses, restaurants and inns that serve alcoholic beverages to foreign tourists on this coastal stretch had escalated, much to the annoyance of their proprietors as well as local politicians that back them in numerous ways.
The TUs charge that local politicians who benefit from the sale of liquor at these unlicensed premises, had been pressing the top authority of the Finance Ministry to intervene in the matter and influence its subject department to open avenues in granting liquor licenses swiftly to these persons on a large scale.
When contacted, Excise Department Spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Kapila Kumarasinghe told the Daily Mirror last night that they have been asked by the Ministry of Finance to take part in a two-day exhibition to be held in Weligama called Enterprise Sri Lanka. “The Ministry ordered us to put up a stall at this exhibition.
We are planning to inform entrepreneurs and those who are interested in the hotel industry on how to apply for an Excise License and the qualifications that are needed for the purpose,” he said. “Since tourism and its related services are a very important factor in gaining foreign exchange to the country and creating local job opportunities, we are hoping to give the correct guidelines to those who willing to apply for a liquor license and also to entertain duly completed submissions and see whether we could grant them a license as per the provisions of the Excise Ordinance,” he said.
But the spokesman flatly rejected claims that the Ministry was trying to influence them to grant liquor licenses disregarding the Excise Ordinance and assured that no third party will be allowed to give such licenses in a haphazard manner. When contacted, a spokesman at the Ministry of Finance told the Daily Mirror last night that although a two-day programme is scheduled to take place during the weekend in Weligama, they were not aware of such moves by the Ministry to grant liquor licenses to unlicensed booze sellers as claimed by Excise TUs.
Last week alone, 21 people had been taken into custody by the special Excise Department investigative bodies in the Weligama area for selling liquor sans a licence. The TUs warn that issuing liquor licenses outside the criteria stated in the Excise Ordinance is a serious violation of law of the country. (Kurulu Koojana Kariyakarawana)