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Tourism industry slams Govt. for inconsistent policymaking

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By Charumini de Silva

The tourism industry yesterday slammed the Government for its inconsistent policymaking and expressed confusion over the uncertainty on the opening hours  of liquor shops.

On 11 January, the Department of Fiscal Policy of the Ministry of Finance issued an extraordinary gazette notification announcing that steps have been taken to revise the business hours of all licensed liquor shops in Sri Lanka listing the new business hours.

However on Sunday, President Maithripala Sirisena expressed concern and directed the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera to revoke the move. 

 “As the tourism industry, we were quite happy with the new decision to permit long hours for the bars and females to be employed because I think the tourists that come to Sri Lanka are expecting this kind of service and entertainment,” Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) President Harith Perera told the Daily FT.

However, he said that they were in confusion over the President’s move to repeal the new changes.

“We are more confused with the Government’s decision-making mess than how it is going to impact the industry,” Perera added.

Hotels’ Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte said he was unable to make any comments at this point in time as the Association needed to thoroughly study the new regulation.

“I am unable to comment on the new gazette notification. The President has ordered to rescind the Finance Ministry’s regulation. We do not know whether the ruling only applies to the retail sector or if it includes hotels as well. We cannot make an observation without doing a thorough study,” he added.

Perera pointed out that it was impractical not to allow local tourists to purchase liquor over extended hours if the Government decides to relax regulations for foreigners, insisting it would lead to disputes. 

The original gazette notification last week revised the hours for other liquor shops with or without Tourist Board approval and they will be open from 11.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m., while bars at hotels with a Tourist Board licence can be kept opened until 2.00 a.m. on the request of the licensee.

In addition, the retail liquor shops will be open from 8.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m., while foreign liquor bars should be opened at 11.00 a.m. and closed at 10.00 p.m. These liquor outlets will have to be opened with the approval of the new liquor dealers not allowed in the area. They should be opened at 11.00 a.m. and closed at 10.00 p.m.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Sunday, while addressing a public meeting in Agalawatte, said that he had instructed the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to cancel the Gazette notifications revoking the prohibition of the sale of liquor to females and the institution of time extensions at liquor shops.

Sirisena stated that he was informed about the two Gazette notifications issued allowing the sale of liquor to females, female employment at liquor shops and the time extensions via the media.

He said since Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera was away from the country both the Gazette notifications would be cancelled upon his arrival. 

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