The ministry hasn’t allowed the import of alcohol, beer and cigarettes, except by duty-free shops and a few high-end hotels, since the days of the military government.
However, the General Administration Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs has been issuing FL-12 licences to sell imported alcohol since 1996.
“I got an FL-12 to sell imported alcohol for K5000 in 1996, but now the licence costs K1.5 million a year,” liquor store owner U Muang Lone said on Monday.
He said he has been selling imported liquor since the military government and pays nearly K10 million a year in taxes.
“I think they are doing this to protect locally produced alcohol. That shouldn’t be the case in a democratic country. Market demand shouldn’t be the government’s business. Their focus should be on collecting taxes,” he said.
All FL-12 licence holders are required to pay profit, income, and commercial taxes, as well as licence fees yearly to the Yangon regional government.
“All we want is to get the proper permission to sell foreign alcohol so the government will get more income,” he added.
Besides the FL-12, the department issues the FL-9 licence for the sale of local beer and FL-17 for bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
Bars, nightclubs, restaurants and hoteliers who do not have permits for imported alcohol usually buy their supplies from retailers with FL-12 licences.
According to the department, 2285 FL-12 licences are issued in Yangon Region, bringing in K3.4 billion in fees, each year.
On September 29 and 30, the department, Food and Drug Administration, Internal Revenue Department, Department of Consumer Affairs, and Department of Trade organised a meeting of FL-12 holders to inform them that they would no longer be allowed to sell imported liquor.
The authorities said they are taking the action because the Department of Consumer Affairs had received two complaints regarding FL-12 holders selling counterfeit alcohol that endangered customers.
There were also complaints to the regional government in July about the sale of brands not allowed for import.
Investigations found the complaints were valid, U Myint Cho, director of Consumer Affairs, said during the meeting with retailers on September 30.
“After the complaint about counterfeit alcohol that could endanger public health, we had to take action,” he said.
“Illegally imported alcohol costs the government lost tax revenue and can endanger public health. The amount of foreign alcohol allowed to be imported is limited, so we will investigate how larger quantities are entering the country,” he said.
The authorities say they will start taking action against retailers who sell foreign alcohol, even those with FL-12 licences. Those who are found guilty face three years in prison and confiscation of their goods.
Inspections will be carried out by officials of the General Administration Department, Department of Consumer Affairs, the police, and city.
Even though the sale of imported alcohol, beer and cigarettes is not allowed except in certain cases, the General Administration Department issued licences and the Internal Revenue Department issued tax stickers for imported alcohol.
U Tun Tun Aye, Vice chairman of the Myanmar Bartenders Association, criticised the new measure, warning, “The country’s tourism is already down, and if travellers can’t get imported alcohol here, we will feel the impact even more.”
“We accept that beer and cigarettes shouldn’t be imported because we have our own premium beer and cigarettes, but alcohol is not like that. We need quality alcohol for foreign visitors and special occasions,” he said.
The Liquor and Tax Department has issued 41,153 liquor licences for the whole country and is not issuing any more, which has inconvenienced hotels that want to serve liquor.