Renting a bar licence will be a criminal offence after December 31

Thukten Zangpo 

The Ministry of Economic Affairs will lift the ban on the issuance of bar licences from the beginning of next year.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said they are trying to review the rules and regulations. “The ban will be lifted the moment we finalise the rules and regulations.”

He, however, said that the ministry will have to wait for the cabinet executive order.

Athang-Thedtsho’s member of parliament, Kinley Wangchuk, said that to implement the National Assembly’s (NA) decision on the ban, the Cabinet will endorse the motion being passed by Parliament, and the ministry concerned will receive the executive order.

He expects the ministry will lift the ban on the issuance of bar licences in a month or two. “The motion of the NA is doable and has no budgetary implications, and the executive branch should respect it.”

However, MP Kinley Wangchuk said that the ministry needs to review the regulations like zoning where bar licences are not to be issued around dratshang, schools, and public places.

An official from the cabinet secretariat said the Cabinet has to discuss the implementation of the NA’s resolution. “If the motion is very specific, the ministry can take it forward and implement, but if the ministry has some issues in the implementation, it has to be discussed in Parliament.”

He said the Cabinet has to develop a modality to implement the NA’s resolution.

An official also said that if the majority of the ministers do not support the resolutions, the Cabinet can withdraw the resolutions and report to the NA, stating the reasons for not implementing them.

According to Section 284 (g) of the Penal Code, renting of licences between Bhutanese is fronting and illegal, and renting bar licences will be a criminal offence from January 1 next year.

The NA passed the motion to lift the ban on issuing bar licences on December 9 with 37 members voting ‘yes’ and three ‘no’. One member abstained from voting.

The motion recommended increasing and adopting a single bar and retail licence fee across the country, and that the Ministry of Health and relevant stakeholders maximise their efforts in creating awareness on the ills of alcohol consumption.

During the NA session, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo did not support the motion, stating that alcohol-related diseases are the number one killer in the country and lifting the ban would have a greater impact on the health of people.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering also did not support the motion, saying he did not receive the assessment study on lifting the ban on bar licences.

Meanwhile, there are about 4,500 bar licences, 600 retail liquor shop licences, and 195 wholesaler licences issued in the country.

Studies found that restrictions on the issue of bar licences since 2010 has not reduced consumption of alcohol but has increased illegal sales of alcohol, fronting, and the unethical licence trade and operation of numerous illegal bars. After the ban, about 1,000 bar licences were issued to hotels that have more than eight rooms.