No, we don’t need more bars

The economic affairs ministry has proposed to lift the ban on the issuance of new bar licences. This is the most ill-advised decision ever.

Wait, if studies are needed. Wait.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that there was no evidence that the implementation of the policy [ban on the issuance of new bar licences] had reduced alcohol consumption in the country. However, he also said that the issue must be considered carefully as it involved people’s livelihoods and health. Ambiguities, indecision, and ambivalence should not direct our policies. Consequences  can be far-reaching.

The ban on the issuance of new bar licences, which began from 2010 might have expired, but we can wait for studies and surveys to direct us to a new way to tackle the problem.

A minister saying that “… there is also no basis to say that lifting the ban [on the issuance of new bar licences] would increase the number of alcohol consumers”, is dangerously wrong. We do not even have reliable records to establish our arguments, this way or that. The health ministry has nothing about it that is relevant today.   

And the minister went on to say that the “ministry is in favour of making illegal sale of alcohol legal.” This smacks of something really sulphurous.

Whenever we talk about alcohol, we immediately blame it on the culture. But we also know that excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health and relationship problems, to say nothing about the loss of productivity, premature deaths and disabilities, among other problems.

If only we could look at our alcohol consumption problem in terms of cost! Culture can be nurtured.

More than eight percent of road traffic accidents in Bhutan are attributed to drink-driving, for example. Its contribution to crimes such as homicide has been well established. Going by police reports, most of the crimes committed by youth and adolescents are due to the influence of alcohol, particularly in urban areas. A report from a CSO shows that about 70 percent of domestic violence cases have links to alcohol consumption.

Alcohol also plays a significant role in education attainment and employment. Economically, the cost of treating alcohol-related illnesses runs to the tune of millions every year. This has also a direct link to poverty among the people. What we also know is that revenue from the sale of alcohol does not compensate the economic losses incurred as a result of alcohol-related harm, loss of productivity, and premature deaths, among others.

What the country needs urgently is sensible ways to control the consumption of alcohol among its people. Ban is not the answer; it has never worked. Lifting the ban on bar licences is even more dangerous.

The best recourse, for now, is to wait until we have a solid ground to address the problem before lifting the ban on the issuance of new bar licences. In the meanwhile, we could look at recreational facilities in our fast-growing cities and town. We can do a lot better. Often the problem is somewhere else.

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