Govt. to issue bar licenses once alcohol reduction policy is ready

The health ministry is preparing the new policy on the reduction of the harmful use of alcohol

The economic affairs ministry will issue bar licenses once the new policy on the reduction of harmful use of alcohol, which is being prepared by the health ministry, is ready, according to Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma.

“We are waiting for the new policy on the reduction of harmful use of alcohol so that the demand and supply side are simulated together,” Lyonpo said.

According to the minister, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) has proposed lifting the ban on the issuance of new bar licenses based on feedback and situational analysis with numerous cases of illegal bar outlets hiring, leasing and trading bar licenses.

He said the reason for proposing the lifting of the ban was because of the rise in the number of illegal alcohol sales.

“People were willing to purchase bar licenses illegally for Nu 600,000 to Nu 800,000 when the actual fee ranges from Nu 5,000 to Nu 15,000,” Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, the issuing of bar licenses was stopped in 2010 for the well-being of people’s health. Nevertheless, the policy of prohibiting bar licenses was not proven to be effective as the ministry’s analysis revealed no trace of alcohol reduction.

According to Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, the ministry is aware of the problem and had already proposed lifting the ban.

Meanwhile, the reduction of harmful use of alcohol policy aims to enhance the country’s health, social and economic conditions by avoiding and reducing harmful alcohol usage.

“However, to stop people from drinking, it is not necessary to ban a license that might only encourage illegal sale, irresponsible drinking and unethical business approach,” Lyonpo said, adding that he understands the impact of alcohol and does not encourage alcohol use and maintains that drinking is injurious to health.

Lyonpo also said that the ban has affected mostly the people who wanted to run businesses like restaurants or similar small eating places, including the bars. Those who have bar licenses, but do not operate businesses are being hugely benefited.

“The case of hiring and lease is becoming widespread, and with fronting provision in the penal code, innocent small enterprises might fall victim to the provision,” Lyonpo said. 

Meanwhile, the ministry has issued about 4,500 bar licenses, about 600 retail liquor shops licenses and 196 liquor wholesalers’ licenses in the country as of now.

Further, the minister said some restaurants and bars in Thimphu still run their businesses without bar licenses.

“The banning of licenses in 2010 was due to too many alcohol-related cases and since the strategy has not worked, the ministry issued the license again after a decade of trial. But the health policy will come up with some other measures to decrease the consumption of alcohol,” he added.

Lyonpo said that around 30 bar licenses in 2020 and about 10 bar licenses in 2021 have been issued for hotels.

Meanwhile, a bar owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, said for the last seven years he has been paying Nu 5,000 – Nu 7,500 as a hiring charge every month for a bar license. He pays the tax and renews the license on his own.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu