The Parliamentary Ways and Means Committee has recommended that the Excise Department call a fresh tender for a new security feature for liquor bottles following widespread issues over the current security sticker supplied by an Indian company.
The Committee, which presented its first report to Parliament this week, identified many issues related to the implementation of the security feature, Committee Chairman Patali Champika Ranawaka told the Sunday Times. “The security sticker is supposed to be foolproof but we found that it has been widely forged,” he said.
The Indian company, Madras Security Printers (MSP), won the contract in 2018 to supply security stickers to be printed on liquor bottles.
Acting on instructions from the Ways and Means Committee, the Excise Department has been carrying out island-wide raids over the past few weeks to take into custody liquor bottles suspected to contain fake security stickers. The scam is believed to have resulted in the loss of millions of rupees in tax revenue to the Excise Department.
As of Friday (8), 43,776 liquor bottles that were taken into custody have been confirmed to contain fake security stickers. Fines amounting to Rs. 43.4 million have been imposed for bottles that have been identified, Excise Commissioner Kapila Kumarasinghe told the Sunday Times.
The fine consists of compounding fees, defaulted excise charges and late fees.
Tests are continuing to identify whether other bottles taken into custody from the market also contain fake security stickers.
The vast majority of liquor bottles found with fake security stickers were 180ml bottles, according to officials.
The cost of a genuine security sticker is Rs. 1.80. The tax revenue that is lost to the government through a fake security sticker however, is Rs. 2,900 each for a large 750ml liquor bottle, Mr. Ranawaka said.
He noted that the Ways and Means Committee had identified several other shortcomings in the usage of the security sticker. The primary concern was that there was no homogenous identification system for all 23 liquor manufacturing companies. Four companies, including two that account for 73% of the liquor market share, are using a digital image feature while others are using the security sticker. The companies using the digital feature have argued that pasting security stickers is not practical for them due to their speedy production process. Accordingly, Cabinet approval had been granted in 2021 enabling the usage of either a paper-based foolproof sticker or digital image print in the liquor bottles.
The Committee, however, has recommended that the Excise Department take measures to include all liquor manufacturers in the system of using the security tax stamp.
The current security sticker system is also not customer-friendly, with only Excise Department officials having the technology to identify genuine stickers from fake ones. As such, the Committee has recommended the introduction of a mobile application with QR-based technology to enable customers to easily identify fake security stickers. Accordingly, a customer must be able to scan the QR code on the security sticker to verify whether the product they are purchasing is genuine or not.
Given the issues regarding delays in tax collection, the Committee has also called for the introduction of an automatic taxation system enabling immediate tax collection after the completion of the production process.
“We have made our recommendations (to call for a fresh tender). The decision is up to the Finance Ministry. If it does not call a fresh tender in line with the recommendations we have made, it will have to explain to us why,” said Mr. Ranawaka.
Meanwhile, the Ways and Means Committee has further recommended that the government expedite the establishment of an Integrated Revenue Management System (IRMS) which links different government agencies including the Excise Department.
Attempts to contact Finance State Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitya proved futile.