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City’s rice wine out of ‘control’

Villagers in Kampong Chhnang province recover from a poisoned batch of rice wine earlier this month. The noxious wine killed 15 people and hospitalised 78 earlier this month. Photo supplied
Villagers in Kampong Chhnang province recover from a poisoned batch of rice wine earlier this month. The noxious wine killed 15 people and hospitalised 78 earlier this month. Photo supplied

City’s rice wine out of ‘control’

Phnom Penh is home to almost 200 producers, distributors and vendors of rice wine, none of whom are licensed, a city official acknowledged yesterday, prompting one local NGO to call on the government to do its job in controlling such businesses.

City Hall announced early this year that it would be conducting a census of all rice wine producers and sellers following a spate of incidents in other provinces and an “unexpected” jump in rice-wine-related poisonings in 2015. Such incidents have stayed in the headlines, however, with methanol-tainted wine blamed for more than a dozen deaths in Kampong Chhnang province in recent weeks.

Municipal spokesman Met Measpheakdey said yesterday that the city’s survey had been completed, and that there are 199 businesses making and selling rice wine, as well as other locally produced wine made with other ingredients. Of that total, 39 businesses were producers, 80 were distributors, 23 were both producers and distributors, and 44 were retailers.

“Not all of them are licensed,” he conceded.

Measpheakdey said he wasn’t able to provide figures on licensing yesterday, and directed questions to the municipal department of industry and handicrafts. The department’s director, Neth Mony Ponaka, said that none of the 199 small businesses were licensed.

“We have not [had] a really good control on those wine-making businesses because of the technicality and human re-sources,” he said, adding that officials “have almost never inspected those places”.

Early this year, City Hall ordered all of the capital’s district governors to find out how many rice wine producers and sellers were in their jurisdictions in anticipation of planned inspections by the ministries of health and industry.

Mony Ponaka said officials were now trying to find a way to control such businesses. “The solution will probably be outlined by January,” he said.

Most of the businesses are small and can’t afford a licence, which cost $40 for three years, so they open an informal business, Mony Ponaka said.

The Ministry of Industries and Handicraft is in charge of licensing, but spokesman Oum Sotha couldn’t be reached for comment. Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann didn’t respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Mom Kong, executive director for NGO Cambodia Movement for Health, which advocates for greater regulation of alcohol in the Kingdom, said it was time for the government to do its job to license wine producers and check them regularly.

“Without a licence, the government cannot control [them],” he said.

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