The LTTE is operating its own banks in areas under their control in the north. Picture shows the Bank of Tamil Eelam branch in Kilinochchi. It does pawn brokering, has savings accounts as well as current accounts, and has even printed its own cheque books. The state banks have re-opened branches in the area but the Tiger bank has better business given their control over the people living there. Pic. by Gemunu Wellage.


Old law bars liquor sales to women
Even wine cannot be sold to females!
By Sonali Siriwardena

Believe it or not! Women in Sri Lanka cannot buy alcohol at any retail store or tavern, according to a 50-year old law which remains valid today and has gone unchallenged over the years, a Sunday Times Business investigation has revealed.

Click image for a larger view
Click image for a larger view

Passed into law by parliament in the form of subsidiary legislation to the Excise Ordinance in the early 1950s, this law prohibits the sale of any kind of liquor to a woman at a retail liquor store or tavern.

The Sunday Times Business stumbled on this law after noticing a tattered poster at the bar of a local cinema which said alcohol cannot be sold to women and those under 21 years of age. Further investigations revealed that while the law is still valid, retail storeowners either ignore it or are totally unaware of such a provision and continue to sell liquor to women, thereby committing an offence.

The probe revealed that these provisions were a blatant violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the 1978 Constitution, which includes the right to equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex. It also found women freely purchasing liquor at retail stores apparently oblivious of the law.

Two female journalists from the business desk met marketing managers manning liquor outlets of two leading supermarkets who readily acknowledged that women account for half their daily clientele with around 15 of some 30 customers being female. "In fact no one even gave us a second glance when we strolled to the store counter picked up a bottle of Cinzano Rosso and a carton of Carlsberg beer and presented it at the cash counter," one of the journalists said. The management of one store in fact indicated that they would like to cater to a greater number of women in the future!

What is even more puzzling is that, according to the investigation, women - by law - can own a liquor store by virtue of having a liquor licence but cannot - by law - purchase any kind of alcohol including wine. Normally licences are given at the discretion of the minister in charge of the subject and several years back one female applicant was refused a licence on the basis of gender. She challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court as a fundamental rights issue and won. Since then women have been given the right to liquor licences and some do own stores, but legally can't buy from these stores.

A spokesman for the Excise Commissioner's Department confirming the validity of this law, stated that detection by its officials of a sale of liquor to a woman would result in the retail shop concerned being fined for a technical offence under the Ordinance. Investigations revealed that there have been no detections made by the department under these provisions. The offence applies to the seller and not the buyer, in this case the customer.

Another senior Excise official agreed that this law is inconsistent with other related provisions. "If women are permitted to apply for licences to sell liquor it seems illogical for women not to be allowed to buy liquor," he said as the investigation revealed an urgent need to review these antiquated laws and make suitable amendments according to modern day needs.

A retired Excise Commissioner who did not wish to be named, said that although there is an obvious gap in the law, the momentum to lobby for change is sadly lacking in the department. "They have a tunnel view to these things so it is very difficult to effect any change," he said. Officials from the Attorney General's Department, while acknowledging that such inconsistencies in the law need to be looked into, added that these provisions come under the purview of the government and therefore amendments have to be initiated by the government.

The existence of a law that bars women from purchasing alcohol from a store has surprised many people including the legal profession and women's rights activists, who were unaware of this clause.

Women's Rights Activist and Attorney-at-Law Nimalka Fernando said that when such issues of gender equality are taken up with lawmakers of this country, they justify these laws on the basis that women are the carriers of culture. "But this stance itself is very discriminatory because you cannot legislate to condition the lives of women. And more importantly, why is it that society expects only the women to keep the culture intact? What about the duties of the men? These laws are nothing but a reflection of a patriarchal ideology, which has influenced the formulation of laws in this country," she said.

She said although the 1978 Constitution accepted equality within the framework of upholding fundamental rights, there are a number of laws such as this, which having been formulated in the context of particular social values, contradict these rights guaranteed by the constitution. "But unfortunately the present constitution does not contain a provision to review these discriminatory laws. This is something, which has constantly been highlighted even during discussions held on the draft constitution."

She said that while women in high society generally enjoy their liquor indoors, it is the poor women who will be compelled to go to a tavern. "The Excise Ordinance in fact contains a class bias, for if the law is implemented today, it is only the poor women who will be caught violating its archaic provisions. And if the law prohibits the sale of liquor, then we might as well impose a ban on the very consumption of alcohol," she argued.

Leading criminal lawyer Ranjit Abeysuriya, commenting on this "amazing" provision, asked why such prohibition has not been complied with, if the law of the land has clearly decreed against the selling of liquor to women in certain places. "If such prohibitions are illogical, should not the law be suitably modified?" he questioned. Abeysuriya pointed out an exception under Section 5 of the parent Excise Ordinance, which states that nothing within the Ordinance shall apply to any canteen, shop or tavern opened or operated under military or naval regulations. This implies that the law prohibiting the sale or liquor to females would apply to all other taverns, shops, etc, other than those falling under the category of military or naval regulations.

Excise Notification 447 of 29.4.1955:
Section 12 (c): No liquor shall be sold or given to a woman within the premises of a tavern.

The question as to what constitutes a 'tavern' has been left unanswered by the parent law, which does not define the word. Senior officials of the Excise Commissioner's Department state that originally the main Excise Ordinance provided for arrack, toddy and foreign liquor taverns, which were given out on rent on tenders to the highest bidder by the Department.

But since the late 1970s the arrack tavern system was done away with, and on a gazette notification, they were converted into "Foreign Liquor 11 Restaurant Licences." But in today's context the word 'tavern' would mean a 'place of sale' or retail shop.

"Although this may be argued as not being a strict interpretation, a tavern can be understood to mean a liquor shop because that was the originally intended meaning to the word," said a senior excise official who did not wish to be named. Therefore as the law stands today the sale of even one bottle of any kind of liquor to a female at a retail shop is a technical offence under the Excise Ordinance.

Excise Notification 417 of Ceylon Government Gazette No 100266 of 5.7.1951:
(b) Prohibits the possession by any female of any quantity of arrack or fermented toddy in any public place throughout the whole island except under the authority of a permit or pass duly granted under that Ordinance.

This provision bars a woman from the possession of alcohol at any 'public place'. The interpretation relied on by the Excise Dept. for 'Public Place' includes a public road, railway station, bus stand. etc. Therefore while a woman is permitted possession, for example inside the premises of a licensed restaurant, the right to possess any kind of alcohol by a woman, does not extend outdoors.

No lice in Paradise
Marico Ltd has put off its plan to set up a subsidiary in Sri Lanka for its anti-lice oil under the brand name 'Mediker' since on further study it was found that the market does not hold the potential it expects, according to a report in, an Indian-based website.

Marico had acquired the anti-lice treatment business with Mediker brand from Procter & Gamble for India and the SAARC region in the first quarter of 2000. Currently, Marico is test marketing anti-lice oil in Tamil Nadu and depending on the response, the product will be marketed nationwide.

Soft loans to buy generators
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has asked the DFCC Bank to provide soft loans for the purchase of generators and for energy saving, environmentally friendly investments.
The bank should make available concessionary financing support for private sector investments in securing self-generation capacity, cost effective demand management and energy saving, and environmental protection and enhancement, it said in a statement.

It asked the bank to develop such a line of credit with support from the government and multilateral lending agencies.

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