Indonesia’s chief security minister to decide tobacco bill’s fate

11 March 2017:

As the deadline for the government to respond to the House of Representatives’ second attempt to deliberate the controversial tobacco bill approaches, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration has finally moved to assess whether discussing the bill would be worth it or not.

The President has appointed Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto to lead the talk on deciding the official governments’ stance of the deliberation of the tobacco bill.

Speaking at the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Ministry’s office on Thursday, Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki said Wiranto had been tasked with gathering and coordinating input from related ministries to decide the bill’s fate, which was hanging in the balance because of disagreements among ministries, particularly the Health Ministry and the Industry Ministry.

“The tobacco industry is a huge deal for us. There are still many aspects that we have to consider, so the government’s position should be objective in this case,” Teten said.

Studies from ministries related to the tobacco issue, including from the Health Ministry, the Industry Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Home Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry, would be gathered and assessed by a team at Wiranto’s office to ensure that all aspects were considered before any decision was made, Teten said.

“We just began the coordination since March 18 is the deadline to issue the presidential letter […] Whether the letter would be sent or not, it is up to the results of the assessment by the coordinating minister’s office,” Teten added.

Previously on Tuesday, State Secretary Pratikno said the bill was being discussed by the Industry Ministry, the Manpower Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, leaving out Wiranto’s office.

The tobacco bill, which seeks to triple cigarette production to 524 billion by 2020, was initially rejected from the 2016 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) by the Health Ministry, which was appointed by Jokowi to lead the discussion at the House.

However, the comeback of Golkar politician Setya Novanto as House Speaker paved the way for the inclusion of the bill in the 2017 national legislative program.

The Health Ministry has long campaigned for stronger tobacco control, which is crucial to saving around 200,000 Indonesians who die every year due to tobacco-related illnesses and to save Rp 378 trillion (US$28 billion) in economic losses caused by smoking.

The Jokowi administration, however, has been seeking to boost tobacco production to improve the welfare of tobacco farmers, an argument used by lawmakers in their efforts to pass the tobacco bill, which would require tobacco companies to use 80 percent local tobacco in their products.

In 2015, former industry minister Saleh Husin issued a 2020 tobacco road map that had targeted to triple current cigarette production. However, the ministerial regulation was annulled by the Supreme Court last year, on the grounds that increasing cigarette production was incompatible with child protection and public health, among other reasons.

Anti-tobacco activists have repeatedly made calls for Jokowi to kill the tobacco bill by not sending a presidential letter to the House as the bill was deemed to protect only the interests of the tobacco industry and has neglected health considerations.

Women’s activist organization Women’s Network for Tobacco Products Control (JP3T) added their voice to the growing calls from activists to reject the controversial bill.

“I believe anyone who loves their children should reject this [bill], because we, as parents, want our children to be better than our generation,” said Henny Supolo Sitepu, chairperson of the Yayasan Cahaya Guru teacher’s foundation.