Bill on banning sale of alcohol “unconstitutional”

A bill to ban the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands and airports was contrary to the principles of Islam, MPs argued today.

The bill was unconstitutional as it indirectly authorised the use of alcohol in places not specified in the draft legislation, MPs said.

Article 10(b) of the constitution states, “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

Presenting the legislation yesterday, Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib said he proposed it because the government had revised the regulations to allow the sale of alcohol in tourist hotels in inhabited islands.

“We are not trying to stop the guests who visit the country from drinking alcohol. What we want to do is ban the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, places that Maldivians frequent and especially airports and airport restaurants and picnic islands,” he said.

Muttalib said he hoped the law would revoke liquor permits given to expatriates and as well as those of yachts and safari vessels.

Under the bill, the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, airports and uninhabited islands leased for purposes other than tourism will be prohibited.

If passed, those in violation of the law will be either sentenced to one to three years in jail or fined between Rf12,000 (US$944) and Rf36,000 (US$2,800).

During the debate, MPs said if alcohol was to be banned it should be done wholesale along with interest from banks and pork in the resorts.

Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), who has been suspended for voting against the party line, said banning alcohol in some places and authorising it in other was against Islamic sharia.

Alcohol has been sold in tourist resorts for the past 30 years, he said, and there was consensus that the industry was “the chicken that lays golden eggs”.

“My question is if some people drink alcohol, should we as Muslims be affected by it?” he said. “Or is alcohol being available for sale somewhere a reason for us Maldivians as Muslims to buy and consume it?”

Instead of laws banning its sale, he continued, legislation was needed to regulate the sale of alcohol to ensure that it was not sold to Maldivians or make it an offence.

Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party argued the law would be tantamount to allowing adultery in the bedroom and banning it in the sitting room.

Fuahmulah South MP Mohamed Rafeeq Hassan of the DRP said the bill had significant flaws and needed amendments.

Thulhaadhoo MP Nazim Rashad, an independent, said Islamic sharia was higher than the constitution and parliament should not pass a bill to authorise the sale of anything banned in Islam.

Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam of the DRP said the flaws in the bill could be corrected in committee and were not a good enough reason to vote against it.

Hulhu-Henveiru MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik, parliamentary group leader of the MDP, said the bill was politically motivated and was intended to publicly accuse the government of authorising the sale of alcohol.

The government has revised regulations to revoke liquor permits in favour of authorising tourist hotels to sell alcohol to foreigners under strict supervision.

The revised regulations published by the economic development ministry were withdrawn following public pressure.

Under the regulations, tourist hotels in inhabited islands with 100 beds would be authorised to sell alcohol to foreigners.

But, the hotel bar should not be visible from outside or employ Maldivians.

Further, 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.

Alcohol could not be kept at mini-bars in the hotel rooms and expatriate employees at the bar would be subject to police clearance.