Indonesian minimarts will no longer be able to sell alcoholic beverages following a new government regulation that takes full effect in April.
The regulation, signed by Indonesia’s trade minister, Rachmat Gobel, on January 16, bans the small retail chains from selling Class A liquor, which contains less than five percent alcohol. This includes beverages such as beer, low-alcohol wine, and shandy. Previously, such restrictions were applied mostly to alcoholic beverages with over five percent of alcohol.
According to The Jakarta Post, the regulation was made in consideration of the “protection of morals and culture in society.” The new Indonesian government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has taken a tough line against social ills like drugs and alcohol, as evidenced from its stance on the recent execution of drug traffickers (as The Diplomat reported previously).
Elaborating on this point to local media last week, Rachmat said that the government had received growing complaints from the public about the availability of alcohol in their communities, especially from minimarket outlets. These minimarkets, he said, raised moral concerns because they had spread around densely populated residential areas – including near schools and around places of worship – and were lax about selling alcohol to underage customers.
“It is not good for the younger generation. The government takes the position that it will not allow these products to be sold in minimarkets to protect future generations,” Rachmat told Bisnis.com.
Public drinking is technically forbidden in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, but in practice enforcement is often spotty. Indonesia tends to allow local governments to regulate sales, partly in order to accommodate non-Muslims as well as foreigners.
Though the regulation has already been approved, the government is allowing a three-month period for vendors to act on it and hence it will only take full effect starting April 16. Knowledge of the new policy is still quite sparse, with four of the five minimarts The Straits Times spoke to recently not even aware of its existence.
Nonetheless, officials are already beginning to take steps to enforce the ban. Over the weekend, Indonesian media reported that Rachmat had said that his Twitter account, @RachmatGobel, is now open to receive reports on minimarts that violate the policy. Rachmat also said that if the mimimarts violate the ban three times, they will have their trade permits pulled.
Tutum Rahanta, vice-chairman of the Indonesian Retail Association, warned that the regulation may affect critical economic sectors like tourism. According to the association, in certain tourist destinations in Indonesia minimarkets can account for up to 20 percent of beer distribution
“Retail businessmen rely on the sale of alcoholic beverages to accommodate foreign tourists’ needs,” Rahanta said.
He urged the government to instead leave such decisions to local governments so they can regulate the sale of liquor in their own areas.
The crackdown on alcohol may also increase the circulation of so-called “bootleg liquor,” which has been growing over the past few years and has raised concerns among drug activists. Rudhy Wedhasmara, coordinator of the non-profit group East Java Action that treats alcohol addicts, told The Jakarta Post that over a hundred regulations passed by local governments since 2013 have been unable to stem deaths due to the drinking of “bootleg liquor,” which number around 18,000 a year.
“The upward trend in bootleg liquor sales is in line with the increasing number of victims who have died drinking it,” Rudhy said.
But Rachmat has said that a blanket nationwide ban is easier to enforce and remains convinced that it will not affect tourism. Interestingly, he referenced the case of Singapore, which is contemplating its own alcohol ban, as a way to justify what Indonesia is doing.
“Singapore, a country that draws many tourists, can issue a ban, and we are still left behind, even though we are also concerned about the same problems linked to drinking,” The Straits Times quoted Rachmat as saying.
The Diplomat reported on Singapore’s proposed ban here.