Government to soon start issuing bar licenses again

The restriction of bar license since 2010 has not reduced consumption of alcohol, but as some people have pointed out, it has increased illegal sale of alcohol, fronting, and unethical license trade and operation of numerous illegal bars.

The motion to lift the ban on bar license has been passed during the Sixth Parliamentary Session last year, so as to reduce the illegal activities happening across the country.

However, the issuance of bar license has still not been implemented as of now, according to officials from Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA).

“The bar licenses aren’t being issued right now, and we didn’t get any instructions regarding that from the government’s side status quo. There is no news right now and it is unclear when the issuance of bar licenses will be implemented too. We will know only when official words have been spoken,” said the Officiating Director General of Department of Cottage and Small Industries, MoEA, Jambay Yeshi.

The media focal person of DCSI, Jit Bahadur, said that the halt in issuance of bar licenses currently is due to the fact that the ministry is already working on the bar license.

“The officials in the ministry are framing policies, rules and regulations and the terms and conditions. So far, not a single person has been issued with a bar license, as of now, and there hasn’t been a single application as the bar license services are unavailable at the moment. We are not able to comment on the bar license for now as the directive has to come from the Cabinet ministry’s decision and it is not the decision to be made by MoEA alone, “said the focal person. He also said that once the directive has been made official, the general public can apply for the bar licenses online through the ministry website.

During the press conference, the Minister of Economic Affairs, Loknath Sharma, said that he is in favor of the government issuing the bar license to those who want to open bars, and it will not only help people self-sustain but also negate the economic impacts of the pandemic.

“Prior to banning, there were no rules and regulations with regards to issuing the bar licenses, but the National Assembly recommended to pass the motion to lift this moratorium, but with rules and regulations in place. So, we have already prepared some rules and regulations, how to do it, some restrictions, and we have submitted it to the PMO. I am awaiting the response from the PMO, and I am optimistic that he will be concurrent with what I have prepared. Within a few days’ time, if the PM says we can go ahead with it, we will issue a public notification and start issuing the bar licenses,” said the Economic Affairs Minister.

The government is in the process of discussing the rules and regulations of improved entertainment centers as well as the bar licenses.

“We are going through that and debating a few issues. In a few days’ time, I will be sending it back to Lyonpo Loknath who has been so eager about it,” said the PM.

The Prime Minister also said that one of the common discussions that took place was about doing away with the dry day Tuesday.

“Tuesday is observed as a dry day across the whole country where sale of alcohol is illegal. Other countries do not follow such a rule except maybe on religious days and all. There have been many arguments and counter arguments, such as fact that a dry day can at least minimize alcohol consumption in the country, but on the other hand people still serve and drink alcohol in secret and it will be impossible to monitor each and every bar on Tuesdays. I am currently trying to get information from the neutral parties,” said PM.

The fronting practice has been rampant across the country after the ban of bar license, and bar owners who had leased illegal bar licenses had to live in constant fear of being discovered by the trade officers upon checking.

Fronting is a criminal offence according to the provision in the Penal Code (Amendment Act) 2021 incorporated as follows: Section 284G which states: A defendant shall be guilty of an offence of fronting, if the defendant leases or subleases, hires or otherwise permits another person to use or operate one’s license unless otherwise permitted by laws or policies. For the purpose of this section ‘license’ includes any clearance, approval, consent, no objection, registration, concession and the likes issued by a competent authority.

As for the penalty, the offence shall be treated as a violation for the first conviction; and a petty misdemeanor and cancellation of license for the second conviction between two individuals of Bhutanese nationality. However, if fronting takes place between a Bhutanese person and a foreigner, it will be treated as a felony of the fourth degree, or a value-based sentencing, whichever is higher.

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