Colombo, January 14 (Daily Mirror): Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said on Sunday that he has instructed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera to cancel the gazette notifications revoking the prohibition of selling liquor to females and the extension of the time period during which liquor shops may be kept open.
Addressing a Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) public meeting in Agalawatte, Sirisena said that as Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera was away from the country (in India) both the gazette notifications would be cancelled on his return.
The President’s action is significant given the fact that the local bodies elections are going to take place in early February and the opposition could use the liberalization of liquor sales to portray it as the handiwork of a pro-West government insensitive to the traditional cultural taboos in Sri Lanka. It is also suspected in some quarters that the liberalization could have been announced to help a section of the liquor lobby.
On January 10, under the Excise Ordinance ,Samaraweera had revoked the ban on selling liquor to females and employing females in places where liquor was manufactured or sold.
In a separate Special Gazette Notification issued on January 11 the business hours of licensed establishments selling liquor was extended from 11.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.
Earlier, Excise Notification No. 666 of the Gazette Extraordinary, had imposed a bar on selling liquor to women and employing women in liquor related fields.
The revocation of the gazettes is a another instance of a lack of understanding and coordination between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who belong to two different parties but run a coalition government.
In many instances in the past, the President had revoked unpopular or politically untenable decisions taken by the Prime Minister and ministers belonging to the United National Party (UNP) ministers.
The UNP is a right wing neo-liberal and urban-based party while the SLFP is a center-left rural based party swearing by traditional views. Under an understanding, the UNP is handling the economic ministries including finance.