Sri Lanka's president overrules moves to allow women to buy alcohol

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sri Lanka's president has intervened to halt the sale of alcohol to women.
Sri Lanka's president has intervened to halt the sale of alcohol to women.

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage

Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena has blocked moves by the government to allow women to buy alcohol and work in bars without a permit, claiming he wasn't consulted about the plans.

A 1979 law prohibits women from buying alcohol in the country, but its enforcement varies wildly.

Last week, the government decreed it was discriminatory and vowed to make amendments to allow women to make alcoholic purchases between 8am and 10pm.

But their plans, hailed as a step in the right direction for gender equality, have received sharp shrift from the outspoken president after they were also slammed by several prominent monks.

Speaking at a rally over the weekend, he ordered ministers to halt their measures related to sales.

It is currently unclear if the decision to allow women to work in the alcohol industry had also been reversed.

Last year's national budget also brought more bad news for the alcohol industry, with steep tax increases imposed on spirits.

Ministers said 49% of all alcohol consumption came from illicit sources, while 85% of consumers drink hard liquor.

"However, in most countries, the tax structure is designed to discourage the consumption of hard liquor and is often proportionate to the alcohol content. We will rationalise the tax structure based on a formula linked to the alcohol content and type,"​ said the government.

Sugar tax

The excise duty of hard liquor was raised to Rs.3,300 per litre, with duties on beer and wine reduced to Rs.2,400 per litre.

The budget also included a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages at 50 cents per gram of sugar.

At the end of November, the president launched an outspoken attack​ on Nestlé’s Milo, claiming it had increased the sugar content from 15% in 2012 to 16.5% presently.

"I want them to reduce it to 5%, otherwise we will bring legislation to control the sugar content in all beverages,"​ he said at an event to mark World Diabetes Day. He said he would tour the country campaigning against its consumption unless Nestlé agreed to reduce the added sugar.

But Samantha Mendis-Wedage, senior manager of corporate communications at Nestlé Lanka, said the firm had reduced added sugar in recent years.

"Over the last five years, we have reduced added sugar (sucrose) in Milo ready-to-drink (RTD) by 32%. Currently, a Milo RTD pack contains only 8.2g (less than 5%) of added sugar."

"By our own internal analyses, Milo RTD currently contains one of the lowest levels of sucrose in the local milk-based beverage category,"​ she added.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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