In 2010 issuing of bar licenses was banned in the country for the wellbeing of the people’s health, however, the policy of banning the bar license was not found effective since the ministry’s study showed no signs of reduction in alcohol consumption.
Minister of Economic Affairs, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that people are still operating the bars without license.
“We could not start the plan of issuing the bar license sooner because of the pandemic as it needs a lot of revisions and rules to be set and if one is capable of doing the business one should of course apply for the license, but if it is found that the license is not in use for certain period it will be cancelled because we are issuing license so that one can be stable economically and one can even create a job opportunity and if fronting takes place we will take action as per the law,” said Lyonpo.
“Does the banning of bar license decrease the number of alcohol consumers or capacity of a consumer? No, with the concern for the economy and of the people we realized that the license should be issued and other measures should be taken for people’s health,” said Lyonpo.
An official from the Regional Trade Office said that they are already receiving numerous calls regarding the issuance of license and he said people are very excited about it as well as worried saying they should claim the license when the opportunity is in hand as they do not know when the government will ban the issuance of bar licenses again.
Here Lyonpo said, “It will not happen again, any government will be rational regarding the issue, the banning of license in 2010 was due to too many alcohol related cases and since the strategy has not worked we issued the license again after a decade of trial, but the health policy will come up with some other measures to decrease the consumption of alcohol.”
Lyonpo said that 30 bar licenses in 2020 and already 9 bar licenses in 2021 have been issued for the hotels who have eight rooms or above.
The number of distribution outlets of liquor has increased over the years. Today there are roughly 4,500 bars, 600 retail liquor shops and 195 liquor wholesalers.
An owner of a bar who wishes to remain anonymous said that for last four years she has been paying Nu 5,000 as a hiring charge every month for her bar license. She pays the tax and renews the license on her own. “I could have made better savings if I had a license of my own,” she said.
Fronting is a felony of a fourth-degree if it takes place between a Bhutanese and a person other than a Bhutanese national. As per the new section 284 (g) in the penal code if fronting (between Bhutanese) takes place it will be a violation for the first conviction and for the second conviction it will be a petty misdemeanor with cancellation of license.
Chimmi Wangchuk a social drinker said that banning of bar license was not decreasing the intake of alcohol because bars were always there and most of the shops and hotels sell liquor without license.
“Selling of alcohol to minors is another concern since none of the bar owners ask for identification card and there are so many young people drinking so the ethics has to come from the business person, or the people with license should be educated, “said Chimmi.
Yonten Phuntso, owner of the Divine Mad House café and bar in Thimphu said that competition should be left in the market because everybody is trying to make a living. “With lots of restrictions coming in, lots of black market also comes in,” said Yonten.
Owner of Go Crazy bar in Thimphu, Pika said that since people sell and give the license on lease to make money, the policy of banning the bar license has actually set a policy of easy money making through renting of licenses.