Daily News Editorial
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The GMOA, it appears, is on a moral crusade, perhaps, taking a breather from its agitations and protests campaigns, using medical students as pawns, to help achieve the goals of its political masters cum financiers. Not stopping at waging a relentless campaign against SAITM, the GMOA also took upon itself the task of dictating terms to the government on matters completely outside its remit and those which did not concern the medical profession.
It went about demanding from the government not to proceed with signing ETCA, an issue strictly to do with trade and economic policy of the government. Not stopping at that, the president of the GMOA was also seen in the company of the likes of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera and Manohara De Silva, at an event organised to deliver tirades on the government, for proceeding with the new constitution. The GMOA, it appears, has come a long way from SAITM, and, is today, meddling with issues that are not the business of members of the medical profession, such as constitution making and government trade policy.
Now comes the news that the GMOA has taken up cudgels with Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, for allegedly attempting to reduce tax on liquor, in the upcoming budget, saying this would encourage liquor use. It says, that, despite the national policy of the country, which is to prevent easy access to liquor, the FM is attempting to reduce tax, with the intention of promoting the tourism sector. What is more, the GMOA is proposing a total ban on alcohol in the country. GMOA spokesman Dr. Samantha Ananda says the FM’s move would destroy the values of the country and encourage alcoholism.
To begin with, there is no official intimation yet from the FM that tax would be reduced on alcohol. The budget is three weeks away. Perhaps, the GMOA is going on the basis of what the Minister stated on an earlier occasion to the effect that we were adopting a hypocritical policy with regard to liquor and that liquor consumption on Poya Days were much higher that on normal days.
Be that as it may, the GMOA is not in a position to preach about upholding values (through the ban of liquor in the country) when it has kicked against the value attached to the Hippocratic oath, by causing misery and hardship to the poor innocent patients, by resorting to wildcat strikes, while some of its members engage in private practice, at the same time.
The doctors cannot be unaware that an imbiber will continue to hit the bottle whether liquor prices go up or down. Once an addict always an addict .It is in very rare instances that an alcoholic will kick the habit. By the same token, it is foolish to suggest that reducing the price of liquor will drive more people to take to the bottle. Who has heard of non-smokers going for the puff, even though the price of cigarettes is only a fraction of the price of liquor? Of course, reducing the price of hard liquor may drive imbibers to increase their quantum, which, however, will keep excise revenue on an even keel. But, consuming an alcoholic drink, prepared under proper standards, would be less harmful than going for the rotgut (kassippu), which is more damaging and injurious to health.
Tourists will anyway have their drink, notwithstanding the price. Hence, the GMOA’s argument that the tax reduction of liquor is with the intention of encouraging tourism is untenable. This (encouraging tourism) could not have been government’s intention, but if liquor prices are to be reduced, as the GMOA contends, it would be a bold move on the part of the Finance Minister, who has a reputation for the unconventional.
We say this, because, all governments, in the past, have only paid lip service towards discouraging liquor consumption, though making pious pronouncements. The fact remains that the government earns the bulk of its revenue from excise duties and would not want to kill the goose that lays the gold egg. The mathata titha of Mahinda Rajapaksa was a misnomer, because, as one wag put it, it was tithata matha (drinking spree) at the time, with Wine Stores even opened near schools and places of worship.The late Jeyaraj Fernandopulle once told parliament that he would request the government not to impose mathata titha in his domain, since the locals commence the day after downing a couple, dekak dala thamai dawasa patanganne. The late Harold Herath, who also represented an electorate, renowned for its boozers, once wanted the manufacture of local arrack to be made a cottage industry, which, of course, drew a broadside from President Premadasa.
Be that as it may, the GMOA should first put it’s own house in order before assuming the role of moral crusader. It’s members should stick to their sacred duty of caring for the sick, before trying to redeem the country from the vice of alcohol. Moreover, they should cease working to the political agendas of defeated leaders, if their gratuitous advice is to be taken seriously by the government.