The Progressive Liquor Bill — legislation touted to break the oligopoly in the lucrative liquor industry — is expected to be debated at its second and final readings in the House of Representatives in early November when the House reopens after a recess.
However, the opposition Move Forward Party, which initiated the bill, has voiced concerns that it may be scuttled by pro-government parties following a rumour that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, at the cabinet meeting last Tuesday, suggested coalition parties block its passage.
This was, however, denied by a government spokesman who insisted the prime minister has never interfered with legislative affairs.
Nonetheless, smooth passage for the bill is unlikely given the fact the House decided to send it to the cabinet for 60 days of consideration when it was presented on Feb 9 for a debate.
In other words, the bill was shelved for two months by the government for reasons it has yet to explain.
It was later returned to the House to be debated on June 8, and it passed the first reading by 178 votes in favour and 137 votes against, with 15 abstentions.
A 25-member panel was formed to scrutinise the bill.
Although opposition parties are supportive of the bill, there is a slim chance that it will sail through the House without the support of government parties.
Essentially, the bill seeks to break the oligopoly in liquor production in Thailand which is limited to a handful of major corporations, by allowing small entrepreneurs to enter the business and compete or produce alcohol for non-commercial purposes.
However, the producers will be required to meet safety and environmental controls. For commercial purposes, permission must be sought from the director-general of the Excise Department.
The bill also seeks to do away with conditions that liquor or beer producers must meet such as the minimum amount of registered capital, the minimum amount of the products to be produced or a minimum number of employees required which were designed to prevent small entrepreneurs from doing business.
More importantly, the bill seeks to give opportunities to community-based enterprises, giving them another means of income generation instead of relying on agriculture which does not offer much in the way of returns.
In short, it can help boost local economies.
The downside of the liberal liquor bill is that it may lead to social problems such as increased liquor consumption or alcoholism.
But the same problems can also be caused by existing alcoholic products manufactured by big corporations.
Government parties must come up with a reasonable argument about why the bill should be ditched and how any negatives outweigh the merits claimed by the proponent of the bill and its supporters.
The public has the right to hear their views instead of watching them use their sheer numbers to decide the bill’s fate.
The Move Forward Party may gain some votes from people looking to participate in the business of producing liquor but, in the end, it’s the consumers who decide which liquor or beer brands will be a success and go on to help the local economy.
Political gaming should have its limits. Parliamentarians should base their judgement on the bill on the public interest rather than political considerations such as whether the party proposing it stands to do well at the ballot box.