Excise Dept. and NATA in spirited clash over Happy Hour liquor ban

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Excise Commissioner General M. J. Gunasiri is to discuss the possibility of permitting “happy hour,” the time when alcoholic drinks are served at discounted rates, at establishments with liquor licences.

This is after a recent directive by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) warned that a fine would be imposed on happy hours and similar alcohol promotions.

“Tourism is important to the country. So I will discuss the matter with NATA and see what can be done,” Mr. Gunasiri said.

Promotions on drinks, such as Happy Hour, are common in Sri Lanka and around the world. These include buy one, get one free, a percentage off the total bill, and discounts on selected brands of liquor. The NATA decision to enforce a happy hour ban faced spirited opposition from restaurants and bars.

Colombo City Restaurant Collective Association president Dharshan Munidasa said, “The government and agencies shouldn’t tell us how to run a business.” He explained that businesses decide internally what the price markup should be on their products. “If we buy something at Rs. 100 and sell it at Rs. 240 but add a 50% discount so it is Rs. 120 to the customer, that’s our decision,” he explained. “If you go to enforce this strictly, then even credit card discounts on a meal will have to be adjusted to separate the alcohol from the food.”

Mr. Munidasa said the restaurant industry had just bounced back from crisis after crisis since 2019, and rules like these discouraged the sector. “Many people’s livelihood depends on us, and we have already lost staff in the past few years. We contribute to the economy through VAT,” he said.

The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act states, “A person shall not offer any prize, gift, cash rebate, discount, or the right to participate in any contest, lottery, or game to the purchaser of a tobacco product or alcohol product in consideration of the purchase of that product or to any person in consideration of the furnishing of evidence of such purchase.”

Restaurant and bar owners questioned why this “archaic” section of the law was being enforced suddenly after NATA had been “sleeping on it” for so long.

President speaks to Zelenskyy, but Russia’s envoy insists he is not the president

During a news conference in Colombo on Thursday to brief journalists about ex-military personnel from Sri Lanka being trafficked to the Russia-Ukraine war front, Foreign Affairs State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the issue.

As soon as Mr. Balasuriya finished making the statement, Russia’s Ambassador Levan Dzhagaryan, who took part in
the joint news conference, felt compelled to jump in and
say something.

“Actually, Zelenskyy is not the president but the ex-president of Ukraine,” he said, with a mix of urgency and exasperation. “The ex-president, the former president! We don’t even know who the President is now for that country,” said Mr. Dzhagaryan. He said Mr. Zelenskyy’s term as president ended on May 21st. “He is no longer the President of Ukraine,” he emphasised again.

The Russian Ambassador was determined to make everyone accept that Mr. Zelenskyy was indeed the ‘ex-president’ of Ukraine and not the incumbent.

News reports said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s five-year term in office ended on May 20, but he will remain in his post until security conditions allow for elections to be held.


Police use pop culture and humour to reach young audience

The Sri Lanka Police’s official social media channels attracted attention online this week when they started showing signs that one does not usually associate with the image of the country’s police: humour.

The official account of the Sri Lanka Police on Facebook, for example, put up a post this week referencing Marvel Superhero ‘Deadpool’ to urge motorcyclists to wear a helmet when riding. The Deadpool character is famous for his superhuman regenerative healing abilities, meaning he can frequently suffer horrendous injuries that would kill a normal human being, and recover quickly. “You’re not Deadpool, so you can’t heal your body. Think before ride (sic) a motorcycle without helmet,” said the post on Facebook.

Police creativity in social media posts

Meanwhile, on X, formerly known as Twitter, the police’s official account published another post referencing the animated character ‘Megamind’ to warn people about phishing scams. The character Megamind is described as a highly intelligent alien supervillain. “You’re not a Megamind so think before you click beware of phishing scams,” the post says.

Both posts on Facebook and X were accompanied by the hashtag #becareful and several others.

The posts have attracted mostly positive reactions. Referencing pop culture and using humour to reach a wider, mostly younger audience, is not new, and the tactic is often used by law enforcement agencies in many countries. This, however, is a first for the normally humourless Sri Lankan police. Given all the criticism and negative headlines associated with the country’s law enforcement arm, perhaps this is not a bad strategy.

Tear down those walls to give disabled people access to buildings

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Parliamentarian Madura Withanage has stated that government institutions must
ensure disabled persons can access buildings without difficulty.

He has said this should be done, even if it means knocking down walls in the buildings.

Addressing a recent Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Coordinating Committee meeting, the Colombo District MP called on officials to compile a list of government institutions that have not provided access to disabled people despite it being the law and to warn those institutions to immediately rectify the matter.

Mr. Withanage told those present that many people did not understand the difficulties faced by the disabled until they themselves became disabled. He pointed out that even he could become disabled tomorrow and emphasised that authorities should do more to ensure that the disabled community was given easier access.

The MP noted that a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into the difficulties faced by the disabled had also been appointed for the first time and added that the Urban Development Authority should focus more attention on the issue.

Mr. Withanage also urged the authorities to check if disabled access points had been installed in the buildings before issuing them compliance certificates.

Lankan mercenaries in Russia’s war: Govt. and Opposition going separately to Moscow for talks

Efforts to repatriate Sri Lankan ex-military servicemen who had been lured to Russia to fight as mercenaries in the war against Ukraine have resulted in a tussle between the government and the opposition.

Two competing delegations are hoping to travel to Moscow to meet Russian officials to discuss the matter.

A government delegation led by Foreign Affairs State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya is planning to leave for Moscow next week. The delegation will include senior officials from the Foreign and Defence Ministries. The Foreign Ministry has requested dates between June 5 and 7 for the delegation to meet with Russian defence officials.

The Moscow-bound SJB team

Meanwhile, main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya leader Sajith Premadasa has written to Russia’s Minister of Justice to seek his cooperation in facilitating a visit to Russia by a three-member opposition delegation to hold talks with Russian authorities on the same issue. The opposition delegation will comprise parliamentarians J.C. Alawathuwala, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, and Sujith Sanjaya Perera.

The government had earlier extended an invitation to the opposition delegation to join the government delegation and undertake a joint visit, but this invitation has not been accepted.


TNPF calls for boycott of polls

The Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), a breakaway group from the Tamil National Alliance, has launched a campaign in Jaffna demanding a boycott of the upcoming presidential election.

The party members distributed

It is expected that this campaign, which started at the bus station, will be carried out across the North and East in the coming days.

Pic by N Lohathayalan

New show: President acts in Film Sri Lanka

The National Film Corporation (NFC) will be named ‘Film Sri Lanka’ under new legislation that the government plans to introduce soon.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed this when he recently met stakeholders in the film industry, along with Media Minister Bandula Gunawardana and officials.

The new institute that will replace the NFC will be a new liberal institute and will no longer act as a controller that exercises monopolistic controls on the film industry, the stakeholders were told. In contrast, ‘Film Sri Lanka’ will act more as a developer and facilitator to uplift the film industry.

The stakeholders who were present welcomed the proposed changes and urged the government to help the industry grow by speedily implementing the new Act.

SLPP attacks Range Bandara’s proposal to save its name from shame

The recent controversial proposal by United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections for two years through a parliamentary resolution and a referendum attracted a firestorm of criticism from many quarters.

Interestingly, the first to oppose Mr. Range Bandara’s proposal and publicly criticise it were seniors from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), on whose support Mr. Wickremesinghe is fully dependent to carry out his agenda.

Explaining their rationale, senior SLPP sources said the party hierarchy decided that they should take immediate steps to reject the proposal. Otherwise, they believed the SLPP, too, would receive blowback over the proposal amid speculation that the UNP General Secretary had the SLPP’s backing to present the proposal. As such, the party immediately sent out SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam and National Organiser Namal Rajapaksa to blast Mr. Range Bandara’s proposal and throw cold water on any prospect of it being seriously considered.

The sources noted that the party (SLPP) also chose to act quickly, as President Wickremesinghe did not dismiss the proposal publicly straight away, leading them to believe that Mr. Bandara had presidential sanction to present the proposal.

“If we hadn’t acted, we would have felt the full wrath of the public over that proposal. Since we chose to go on the attack and criticise it, others did not get an opportunity to use the proposal to attack us. So, we not only managed to prevent the UNP from trying to make a ridiculous proposal sound reasonable, but we were also able to prevent our enemies from using the incident to sling mud at us,” said a party senior.

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