16 March 2017:
In an about face move that demonstrated stronger support for the country’s public health, the government said on Wednesday that it refused to deliberate the controversial tobacco bill, which seeks to boost cigarette production while dismissing the dangers of smoking.
This is the second time the government has rejected such a proposal from the House of Representatives after the bill was also voided last year following opposition from the Health Ministry to jointly deliberating the bill.
Ending his ambivalence on tobacco, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, whose administration had earlier issued a road map for the industry that sought to triple cigarette production to 524 billion by 2020, made a bold move that puts him against one of the country’s oldest industries and which employs millions of workers.
Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said Jokowi would not issue a presidential letter (Surpres) to approve the House proposal to start discussion of the bill.
Without the letter, the House cannot begin deliberations because all bills must be both discussed by representatives of the government and the House. If the House does not receive a letter from the government by the given deadline of March 19, the bill will be voided.
“There is no Surpres [to be issued by the President in this case],” Pramono told reporters at the State Palace, adding that the President had instructed Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita and State Secretary Pratikno to pay a visit to the House to deliver the government’s stance.
During a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Health Minister Nila Moeloek, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri and Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto told Jokowi that if the bill was passed into law then it would contravene a number of prevailing laws handled by the three ministries.
The Health Ministry has long campaigned for stronger tobacco control, which is crucial to saving around 200,000 Indonesians who die every year from tobacco-related illnesses and to save Rp 378 trillion (US$28.35 billion) in economic losses caused by smoking.
In his opening remarks during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Jokowi, however, expressed doubts on the matter, saying that he could understand the concerns raised by the Health Ministry because the government had to take care of the health of its people, but the welfare of those who worked in tobacco industry should also be taken into consideration.
The bill was initially dropped 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 Party politician Setya Novanto as House speaker paved the way for the inclusion of the bill in the 2017 Prolegnas.
Separately, the House Legislation Body (Baleg), which is assigned to deliberate the bill, has reminded the government to be cooperative, arguing that the bill will protect the domestic tobacco industry, while at the same time benefiting local tobacco farmers.
“If the government refuses to discuss the bill, which is the initiative of the House, we will also refuse to deliberate any bills initiated by the government in the future,” Baleg deputy speaker Firman Subagyo of Golkar said on Wednesday.
The politician suspected foreign intervention in pushing the government to kill the bill, as the draft restricted foreign tobacco companies operating in the country.
Firman said the majority of political factions at the House shared the same opinion and thus agreed to continue the deliberation.