Friday, September 22, 2017

Complaints prompt rethink on draught beer licence policy

The authorities are rethinking a crackdown on beer stations and pubs selling draught beer without the correct licence following a wave of complaints.

A bartender pulls a pint of beer in a downtown Yangon bar. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar TimesA bartender pulls a pint of beer in a downtown Yangon bar. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar Times

Until July of this year, Myanmar’s beer stations were happily quenching customers’ thirst with draught beer sold under an FL17alcohol licence. Technically that licence does not cover the sale of draught beer, but under the old system it was understood that bars restaurants with FL17 licences would be entitled to sell beer in any form.

Then, in an effort to apply the law more strictly, the General Administration Department under the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs sent out letters to bar and beer station owners through ward offices instructing them to stop draught beer sales.

This caused serious issues for operators, because the Ministry of Home Affairs has stopped issuing any new liquor licences until further notice. The ministry has a policy of reducing the number of liquor licences each year.

Some beer stations and pubs stopped selling draught beer and complained of lower profits. Others flaunted the instruction and kept selling, often without incident, which led to accusations that the crackdown was being imposed unevenly and unfairly in places like Yangon. The General Administration Department received a storm of angry letters about the policy, and as a result of the complaints has decided to reconsider, U Hla Win Tin, the department’s director, told The Myanmar Times.

“The new directive is under reconsideration,” he said. “We’re waiting from responses from the state and region administration offices before deciding [what to do].”

As part of the policy rethink, U Hla Win Tin said the department had issued internal instructions in late September stating that action should not be taken against bars and beer stations that were continuing to sell draught beer under an FL17 licence.

“During [the] reconsidering [period] the administration offices cannot punish FL17 holders selling beer on tap,” he said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs originally published the directive restricting draught beer sales to establishments holding an FL9 or FL10 licence in the first week of December last year, but only began enforcing it in regions like Yangon in mid-2016. U Hla Win Tin said the directive was issued as part of an effort to update the ancient liquor law and raise more tax.

“The liquor law is from 1917,” he said. “We have to update it. By having tap beer covered by a separate licence the state and regions can receive more income tax, because the taxes go directly to the state and region budgets, not the Union government.”

But as the ministry is not issuing new licences, the crackdown has simply pushed up the price of other licences on the second-hand market.

U Tin Shwe, who manages the Maw Shwe Li pub in Yangon, received a letter telling him to stop selling beer on tap in July. He managed to purchase a CS2A licence second-hand, which allows for the sale of spirits, and successfully applied to upgrade this to an FL9. But the CS2A licence was three times its usual price, he said.

“I had to buy it at a high price,” he told The Myanmar Times. “The CS2A only used to cost K1 million before the ministry directive. I can sell draught beer as I now hold an FL9 and FL17, but what’s interesting is that some of the shops in our township continued to sell using an FL17 and were never warned.”