Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama has been criticised for his remarks on beer, the sale of which has been prohibited in mini markets and convenience stores by the Trade Ministry.
The issue of alcoholic beverages first came to light during a budget evaluation meeting between the city administration and the Home Ministry, when the ministry's regional finance director general Reydonnyzar "Donny" Moenek asked Ahok why the city administration still expected high income from alcoholic drink sales after the issuance of Trade Ministry Regulation No. 6/2015.
The regulation states that beverages with an alcohol content ranging from 1 to 5 per cent can only be sold in supermarkets. Distributors are required to withdraw existing stocks by April 16. The new arrangement was made in consideration of the "protection of morals and culture in society" and to tighten supervision of alcoholic drink sales, according to the Trade Ministry.
"Mr. Governor [...] why does the city administration still target Rp 1.3 trillion [ S$138 million] in the draft 2015 budget from alcohol sales?" Donny asked in the open-door meeting earlier this month.
Some of the Rp 1.3 trillion was expected from beverage manufacturer PT Delta Djakarta, which produces various beer brands such as Anker, Carlsberg and San Miguel. The Jakarta administration owns a 26.25 per cent stake in Delta.
Delta is considered a financially viable company and has continuously contributed to the city administration's income. Last year alone, Delta contributed Rp 50 billion to the city's income and was among the top three firms contributing to the city's revenues.
Ahok, however, defended his policy and questioned the beer ban regulation. He has questioned the regulation since it was issued earlier in the year, calling it "unnecessary".
"What's so wrong about beer? No one has ever died from drinking beer; people die from bootleg liquor. If alcohol is prohibited then I guess we should also ban cough syrups. Those contain alcohol too, you know," Ahok said.
He criticised the regulation for viewing alcoholic beverages as sinful. "I don't understand. To me, corruption is far more sinful than a sip of alcohol." Ahok went on to say the city administration had owned shares in Delta since the 1970s, and was confused as to why the issue had "just recently been brought up after 40 years".
Regional Representative Council (DPD) member representing Jakarta Fahira Idris of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), criticised Ahok for his remarks, which she said were "nonsense". Through her Twitter account @fahiraidris, she published a series of tweets directed at Ahok.
"What's so wrong about beer? A lot. Beer is just as dangerous as vodka or wine [...] beer can make its consumers addicted, which can cause psychological disorders. Further, beer also contains carbon dioxide, which can disrupt the heart's function," said Fahira, who is known to be a vocal anti-alcohol activist.
Many Twitter users also expressed their disappointment about Ahok's statements, using the hashtag #AhokAsbun, which literally means "Ahok talks nonsense". "What made @basuki_btp say consuming beer is not dangerous? Give us evidence of research that says beer is not dangerous," said Twitter user @amin_papamaira, including Ahok's official account in his tweet.
The regulation has been met with opposition in Bali, where many street and beachside vendors rely on selling beer to tourists for their income. The vendors have asked that Bali be exempted from the regulation.