Cabinet seeks more information to lift the ban

MB Subba

The Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) to explore measures to forfeit bar and liquor retail licences that are hired out to others and issue them to those who are in genuine need.

The directive to the MoEA was issued on May 5, following a recent Cabinet discussion on the ministry’s proposal to lift the ban on issuance of new bar and liquor retail licences.

The MoEA had also proposed to revise fees for bar and liquor retail licences and lift the moratorium.

The Cabinet, however, did not approve the ministry’s proposal for want of more information.

“The Cabinet could not approve the proposal to revise license fees for bar and liquor retail licenses proposed by your ministry for want of additional information,” the Cabinet wrote to ministry in the directive.

The Cabinet directed the MoEA and the ministries of health and finance to consult technical experts while reviewing lifting of the moratorium.

As part of the task, the three ministries has been directed to gather information about bar and liquor retail licenses that are operated by the owners and those that are hired out.

The Cabinet also asked the ministries to revisit issuing licences to tourist-standard restaurants and hotels with lodging facilities and come up with recommendations that would benefit “the general businesspersons”. 

The ministries will also review measures to enhance the enforcement of dry day rules through awareness programmes and the impact of the moratorium in rural and urban areas, according to the directive.

The Cabinet directed the ministries to revisit the existing minimum distance from schools and institutions, and the ratio of bars to the population.

“The ministry is directed to submit the recommendations to the Cabinet at the earliest,” the Cabinet stated.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the issue was being reviewed by the Cabinet and that a decision on the ministry’s proposal would be taken soon.

“We are looking at the practical issues regarding the ban and also what best we can do for the benefit of the general public,” he said.

The moratorium, which was imposed in 2010, expired last year. But officials said that the issue needed to be considered carefully as it involved people’s livelihoods vis-à-vis public health.

According to officials, the government is concerned about the impact of alcohol on people’s health. But the ministry says that there is no concrete evidence that the banning of new bar and liquor retail licences has reduced alcohol consumption.

Official statistics show that there are more deaths related to alcohol than any other. However, the ministry also feels there is no basis to conclude that lifting of the moratorium would increase alcohol consumption.

A lessee pays about Nu 5,000 per month to the owner of a bar license in the market. But hiring of bar licenses is categorised as fronting under Section 284 (g) of the penal code.

There are about 4,500 bar licenses, 600 retail liquor shop licenses and 195 liquor wholesaler licenses issued in the country.

Meanwhile, according to annual health bulletin 2020, alcohol usage in the country still remains high with two out of five Bhutanese currently drinking alcohol and is a major killer.