Alcohol regulations sent to parliamentary committee

Revised regulations on the use and import of liquor, pork and pork products have been sent to a parliamentary committee to seek its advice, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Rasheed said today.

Following pressure from the public, NGOs and the Islamic ministry, the regulations that were to come into effect today and authorise the sale of alcohol at tourist hotels on inhabited islands were withdrawn by the ministry last week.

At a press conference today, Rasheed said he did not believe alcohol should be sold in an Islamic country, but liquor permits were given to expatriates and diplomats as required by the Vienna Convention.

“When I took over this ministry, I was not at all happy with the way our ministry was doing it,” he said. “So we started revising it. When we started revising it, the attorney general’s office, police, customs and the tourism ministry participated. The most important thing we considered in revising it was how common this had become in the country, especially in Male’.”

Under the existing regulations, he added, 826 liquor permits were issued to expatriates, which led to difficulties in controlling its illegal use.

“We plotted [a graph] to see the [distribution of] liquor permits in Male’,” he said. “When we looked, we saw that the whole of Male’ was red.”

He did not support such a “loose” policy without a monitoring mechanism, said Rasheed, and in the revision process, the ministry received complaints from police that it was difficult to control the illegal sale of alcohol and the black market created due to the permits.

Further, the ministry was told by Maldives Customs that liquor was taken from bonded warehouses without any control.

“So we were studying ways to control it. But in controlling it, we have to consider that our economy is based on the tourism sector and how we could control it in a way that does not weaken the tourism industry,” he said.

Following the publication of the revised regulations on the ministry’s website on 9 November, he added, the ministry received a number of comments and complaints.

Since the issue was tied to the public interest, he said, the ministry sent the regulations for advice from the parliamentary rules committee.

“If the people don’t want it, I won’t include [sale of alcohol in inhabited islands],” he said.

Yesterday, the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party announced that it would hold “a large demonstration” on Tuesday night to protest the decision sell alcohol.

Further, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) said it would join a number of NGOs in a nationwide protest if the regulations were implemented.
Mauroof Zakir, vice-president of TEAM, told Minivan News yesterday that although he supported the decision to revoke liquor permits, he believed alcohol should not be sold at all on inhabited islands.

“I think that is a very good idea if they take the licenses from them because many have prepared their own bars and have a black market so that will help a lot,” he said.

Adhil Saleem, state minister of economic development, said today that alcohol had become common in Male’ as a result of the existing regulations.

“We made the regulations to change the situation. Let’s talk about the situation,” he said. “We are trying to find a solution because alcohol has become common in an Islamic society, gang violence has increased and our children are intoxicated.”
The issue of selling alcohol on inhabited islands came to public attention last month when Adhil Saleem confirmed that the new Holiday Inn in the capital Male’ had applied for a liquor licence.
The law obligates the ministry to make regulations for the import and use of alcohol, he said.

Adhil said the revised regulations were complete and did not have any loopholes. Hotels with over 100 beds would be allowed to have a bar that is not visible from outside and would only serve foreigners.

Further, it will be illegal to keep alcohol in mini-bars at the hotels on inhabited islands or sell it anywhere apart from the hotel’s main bar.

Maldivians cannot be employed at the bar and all employees of the bar must be registered with the economic development ministry after a police clearance; the bar must further not be easily accessible to people who enter the hotel or visible from outside.

An inventory of the alcohol in storage and daily sales must be maintained and made available to police on their request, while CCTV cameras must be mounted at the storage room at hotel.

Rasheed said police told the ministry the new regulations would make it easier for police to target the illegal sale of alcohol in Male’.