MoEA to look into lifting bar license moratorium

There is a moratorium on stand-alone bar license since 2010

The ministry is looking forward to starting re-issuance of bar license as soon as possible although the current situation is not favourable for available bars which have to shut down time and again for lack of business, said Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma.

According to the Lyonpo, the rationale to resume bar licensing is almost complete and the ministry supports lifting of the moratorium that was imposed for a decade as many unemployed youths, especially those laid off from hotels could easily take up the trade.

The policy like timing and dry day among others are already in place, he said, and it would be announced as a notification soon.

During the recent National Assembly session last year, Lyonpo said the ministry has prepared rules on re-issuing bar licenses to present to the cabinet for approval.

However, the bar license was not lifted earlier  in respecting the National Policy and Strategic Framework to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol, 2015-2020 approved by the 90th session of the Lhengye Zhungtshog (cabinet) in December 2015 that ended by December 31, 2020.

Lyonpo said despite having a moratorium on stand-alone bar license since 2010, hotels and tourist standard restaurants were being issued licenses, and looking at the figure, more than 1,000 bar licenses were issued after the moratorium.

“The negative effects of alcohol cannot be debated but whether a ban on bar licenses so imposed helps to reduce consumption is not very clear, and 10 years down the line, intended results could not be proven,” said Lyonpo.

Instead, he said rampant rent-seeking behavior, fronting, and unethical license trade are occurring besides the operation of numerous illegal bars.

“Bars with small restaurants are the lowest economic self-surviving units, not requiring heavy investment or trading skills,” said Lyonpo.

Additionally, he said many bar licenses could not be renewed after 2010 or after the moratorium was imposed as non-renewal is considered as cancellation, and the moratorium does not allow issuance of new bar licenses resulting in a plethora of issues such as illegal bars and appeals against the rule.

“Opening of bars does make access to alcohol easier but this alone may not lead to excess consumption or enhance consumption as in the absence of a bar, people might be forced to purchase in bulk for consumption,”

As per the ministry, there are 4,253 bars, 598 retail liquor shops, and 195 liquor wholesalers in the country.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu