It is hard to come to grips with the government’s decision to allow restaurants to serve wine and liquor without requiring a separate bar licence.
The temporary ban on the issuance of bar licence could never have been a solution but making it free for everybody to do alcohol business makes the matter even worse.
If the government has been playing to the gallery or pandering to the voter’s demands, the decision is both sad and in poor taste.
There is an urgent need to look at the destructive side of alcohol in the country. Alcohol liver disease is already among the top killers.
The problems related to alcohol are so big in this country that the numbers that we get from the occasional studies here and there make no sense. In fact, we do not even need surveys and studies to tell us the truth. Alcohol is a serious problem and it is growing.
When the Cabinet issued a directive to the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee (NAHRC) last year, a debate among parents and educators ensued. Unfortunately, it fell on our politicians’ deaf ears.
Fronting is a big problem in the country, yes, but it is a problem because it is let to ride, not because we can’t control it. There is business not just in fronting itself, but also in and among officials who are not doing their part to ensure that such illegal businesses do not proliferate in the country. This is a bigger problem than the issue of alcohol itself.
What must be borne in our mind is that we have more than enough bars in the country—we don’t need more destruction to individuals and families due to alcohol; medical and referral records are clear.
While the economic affairs minister has been saying that the government is concerned about the harmful impacts of alcohol on public health, he has also been the principal proponent of the regulation change.
There have reportedly been many consultation meetings with and among “relevant” committees and agencies. Civil servants, alas, have come under strong pressures and caved in.
What we really need today is a healthy debate to shape a bigger national dream: we don’t need more bars and alcohol outlets. It’s a small consolation that studies and surveys will be carried out regularly which will give us a clear picture of the damage of alcohol to Bhutanese lives. Perhaps then our politicians will rethink and rue their mistakes.