Lockdowns, manufacturer protests keep scheme on hold since 2019– The proposed fool-proof sticker system for all imported and local liquor products may be delayed further from its latest implementation date of 1 July due to the current restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, The Sunday Morning Business learns.
According to the Department of Excise, importers had already adhered to the requirement as of 2019. The extension of this system to local products, however, has been delayed.
Speaking to us, Commissioner of Excise/Law Enforcement and Excise Department Media Spokesperson Kapila Kumarasinghe said that a regulation has already been passed in Parliament stating the system should be implemented from 1 July.
“The problem is no one expected this kind of a lockdown,” he stated. “Therefore, how could we adhere to that regulation while facing this situation? Import/export has been hampered and therefore, industry readiness as a whole has also been hampered.
“Lack of movement and lack of transport means purchasing and bringing the machinery from abroad is not possible, since the relevant persons cannot fly abroad, and if they do, they have to face quarantine upon coming back.”
This is not the first time the implementation of this scheme has been delayed. As exclusively reported by The Sunday Morning Business in August 2019, owing to the threats of closure of operations by local alcohol manufacturers, particularly the Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka PLC (DCSL) and Lion Brewery PLC, the two biggest hard liquor and beer manufacturers, respectively, the Government was forced to postpone the implementation of the law which was initially scheduled to come into effect from 22 August 2019.
Following this, an excise notification was issued on 1 November 2019 by MP Mangala Samaraweera in his capacity as the Minister of Finance at the time, and the date of implementation was set for 1 June 2020. However, this was once again delayed due to the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“So there are many obstacles hampering implementation by the exact date, which is 1 July. However, as a department, we are trying our best to implement it by the scheduled date,” Kumarasinghe elaborated.
“We don’t know how soon it will happen because we don’t know how long this lockdown will last. When it lifts, we should evaluate the industry readiness at that time and implement the system.”
The fool-proof sticker system is surrounded by controversy, with questions being raised as to the method of implementation, as well as the quality and validity of the contract holder.
In conversation with The Sunday Morning Business, Kumarasinghe said that when the system is implemented, to the best of his knowledge, the contract would still be with the previously assigned Indian printing company – Madras Security Printers (Pvt.) Ltd. – and it would be implemented as a system of stickers with barcodes and digital coding