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Jakarta Post

Indonesia gives tobacco bill a shot

  • Haeril Halim and Margareth S. Aritonang

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, March 22, 2017   /  07:40 am
Indonesia gives tobacco bill a shot Livelihoods – Female workers select dried tobacco leaves. The East Java administration has claimed the ratification of the FCTC would affect the livelihoods of people in the province, many of whom depend on tobacco to make a living. (JP/Wahyoe Boediwardhana)

The tobacco bill is not dead yet, despite the government’s earlier claim that it would kill the bill.

In a last minute decision that caught antitobacco activists by surprise, the Joko “Jokowi” Widodo administration decided to give the bill a lease on life by sending a presidential letter (Surpres), to the House of Representative, saying it would agree to discuss the House’s initiative.

The letter was sent on March 18, the deadline for the government to respond to the House, just three days after Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung announced that a Cabinet meeting held on March 14 had concluded that the bill, which seeks to triple production to 524 billion cigarettes by 2020, was unnecessary.

“There is no Surpres [to be issued by the President],” Pramono said at the time.

It is unclear what changed the government’s stance at the eleventh hour, but the controversial decision came about amid threats from the House’s Legistation Body (Baleg) that it would reject government-proposed bills in retaliation for the government’s refusal to agree to a deliberation on the tobacco bill.

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, who earlier claimed that the government would not discuss the bill with the House, said on Tuesday the government had no choice but to send the letter because the House had declined to withdraw its request before the deadline.

Yasonna repeated President Jokowi’s statement that the government was aware there were a number of stipulations in the bill that would harm public health, but at the same time, the government wanted to improve the welfare of tobacco farmers.

The government, he said, would find a solution that would work for both the government and the House during the discussion process at the House. If no agreement was reached between the two sides during the bill’s deliberation, the government could still ask the House to drop the bill, he added.

In the letter, President Jokowi assigned Trade Minister Enggartiasto “Enggar” Lukita, Health Minister Nila Moeloek, Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati to discuss the bill with the House.

Enggar, who reportedly supports the bill, dismissed allegations that the government had changed its position due to threats from Baleg, adding that both the House and the government would find solutions on the bill during the discussion period.

“What agreement will be achieved will depend on the progress of discussions in the future made by the government and the House,” Enggar said, adding that the government was mandated by law to issue a surpres to answer the House’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Pramono declined to comment on the issuance of the Surpres, but emphasized that any agreement made during the discussion period had to be in line with the result of the March 14 Cabinet meeting, which concluded that a law on tobacco was not needed.

“Principally, the government thinks the tobacco bill is not necessary because prevailing regulations and other related laws are more than enough. The government will not change its stance and this is the decision of the President. I was there when it was made,” Pramono said.

(Read also: Jokowi opts to kill tobacco bill)

Health Minister Nila said she had yet to receive any brief from the President regarding her role in the discussions. Nila said her office would remain firm in its view that the bill ought to be rejected because it put at risk the health of the Indonesian people.

“I emphasize that the ministry will stand on the side of health,” Nila said.

Prijo Sidipratomo, chairman of the National Commission on Tobacco Control, said Jokowi had fallen for a trap set by the House because by agreeing to discuss the bill, there was now little way for the government to reject it during the discussion period.

“If we consider the backgrounds of the ministers sent to the House to discuss the bill, only Minister Nila opposes the bill. Enggar and Airlangga are from NasDem and the Golkar Party and those parties initiated the bill. The Surpres decision has hurt the feelings of Indonesians who want the President to take the side of health,” Prijo said.

Firman Subagyo, the chairman of Baleg, said the government’s eventual decision to issue a presidential letter responding to the House’s proposal to discuss the bill was in line with his expectations.

“We expect the government to share its concerns regarding our proposal. The final decision on the fate of the bill will be jointly determined later after we have heard the government’s side of the argument.”

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