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On alcohol again

Alcohol, an old issue, is back in the Parliament.

There is nothing new except that this time it is a report from the National Council’s good governance committee. The issues, problems and challenges remain the same. It is like we say, old wine in a new bottle.

The Council pointed out, diplomatically, that despite the government’s concerted efforts, controlling harmful use of alcohol is still a problem. It will still be a problem and if there is one issue that lacked government’s concerted effort, it is alcohol.

The findings are no different from what we found when we first recognized alcohol as a problem. It is still the biggest killer, the main cause of vehicle accidents, domestic violence and many more social ills. There is no coordination among agencies and implementation, even with several regulations, is the poorest.

However, the Council bringing the issue to the fore once again should be appreciated because we need to relook into the issue once again. We need to find solutions because alcoholism is not a tradition, it is a bad habit that is taking root across society across all age groups.

While the report is not final, we hope the issue will be taken up in the National Assembly and in the joint sitting of the Parliament to come out with stringent policies and fixing accountability on authorities.

The stats are there to convince our policy and lawmakers to take it seriously. Two years ago, the government endorsed an alcohol control policy. The irony is that nothing has changed. The reduction of bar licences is not a good yardstick. It is an open secret that for every licenced bar there are two to three outlets operating without licences.

Alcohol is cheap, it is a fast selling good and monitoring is poor. That is why nobody follows the rules. That Tuesday is a “dry day” is a good joke among drinkers. Restriction on selling alcohol before 1 pm and selling it to minor is another joke. Meanwhile, we cannot separate bars from groceries or restaurants. The most freely available product is alcohol.

Alcohol is a lucrative business. It contributes about Nu 1B to the government coffer, but the economic burden of alcohol on the country is four times its returns. It is not imported alcohol that is burdening the society. It is the local breweries and we see new products even as policymakers thrash issues of alcohol-related problems.

Until now, we believed that creating awareness is the right approach. Decades of ineffective campaigning have not helped. It is time we found some sobering strategy. Some proposals had been made to increase taxes. Making alcohol dearer through tax measures and applying severe penalties for alcohol-related crimes sound better than awareness campaigns.

There is hope. We have a Prime Minister who as a doctor who had treated people with severe complications including alcohol-related diseases. His wisdom could help in making stringent policies and stricter implementation.

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