Good intention, bad policy

-This article was originally published by Prience Shrestha in The Himalayan Times on February 5, 2017.

In addressing the anti-social behaviour that generates out of alcoholism, the government has lately decided to pass a regulation prohibiting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes after 8 pm in Nepal. It is expected to come into effect from the first day of the upcoming Nepali New Year. According to Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, this regulation is being introduced for implementing the “immediate work plan for Prosperity and Sustainable Development of Nepal” that envisions tightening the sale of alcohol and cigarettes for “social betterment”.

The intention of this regulation, which is primarily to counteract ongoing violence and mal-practices related to excess consumption of alcohol, is understandably good. However, sound intention of a policy or regulation does not always lead to expected results. It can at least be argued on the grounds that our complex form of society involves a multitude of agents that often make the society function in unpredictable manners that cannot be foreseen by anyone, including the government. Therefore, the intent of any government regulation imposed with limited perception, not acknowledging other concurrent factors, often does not lead to expected results.

Getting through the loophole, bootleggers ahead

On such regards, the potentiality of this regulation to achieve its original intention—to discourage alcohol consumption—appears quite thin.  In fact, it is easy to get around this regulation for the ones who intend to consume alcohol or cigarettes after 8 pm without necessarily violating it. People still can legally purchase and stack up alcohol supplies by 7:59 pm during the unregulated hours. After all, the law only prevents retailers from selling alcohol after 8 pm.

Besides, the regulation is also likely to favour opportunists (also known as bootleggers) willing to sell these products illegally at elevated prices standing at the street corner after 8pm. This could also result in bribing policemen for allowing this behaviour to continue uninhibited. Thus, people may continue consuming these products past stipulated hours even with a regulation that prevents their sale during those hours.  


Targeting the innocent retailers

Furthermore, this regulation also seems to explicitly target those who are not exactly the direct cause of alcohol related crimes.  By barring shopkeepers from selling their products during peak hours of usual business, this regulation is only punishing them by disallowing them to serve customers and make sales. After all, a shopkeeper who simply stands statically behind the counter eagerly waiting to make sales cannot be charged guilty of these anti-social activities. Alas, this regulation seems to deprive retailers from doing business independently while being unable to prevent alcohol related crimes.

Added monitoring responsibilities that follow unnecessary restrictive regulations

Moreover, such regulations that attempt to control the practice of legitimate market activities misdirect the use of police force from their original intent. When having city policemen deployed to keep eyes on people who are simply trying to earn their living, the original intention to control illegal activities may be overlooked. Besides, the alternative solution of setting monitoring cameras or hiring new policing patrol for that purpose would still have considerable costs to be transferred to tax payers for financing a potentially ineffective regulation.

Drawing a line in the sand

In observing the continuous advent of new regulations with new prohibition, we are frequently asked to curtail our social activities that when engaged in consensually, produces little harm. While the government does not seem to hesitate in enacting more regulations without seeming to be aware of its ripple effects, the independence of individuals to conduct normal social or economic activity is frequently compromised. Sooner than later, there has to be a fine line regarding areas where in government guarantees to not intervene on. Otherwise, in a not-so-distant future, the government may start prohibiting the sale of refreshment drinks on grounds of new research that discovers harmful effect of caffeine. Yet still, the pretext for this would be “in the best interest of the public”.

The quality of a regulation is not judged by the objectives it holds. Since wise objectives are easy to state, the quality of regulations and polices are to be instead judged by intended outcomes it generates for the people affected. Given that this regulation is less likely to fulfil its stated good intentions, it can be labelled as yet another bad policy by the government. Eventually, such sort of frequent misplaced actions may also result in the government losing its credibility.