Bali considers controversial alcohol ban with three-year jail terms

·4 min read
Bali beach
Bali beach

Holidays to the Indonesian party hotspot of Bali could soon become a sober affair, as the Government considers a national ban on alcohol.

A new law could see the consumption and distribution of alcohol banned across Indonesia, including Bali – something many believe would be a devastating blow to the island’s essential tourism industry.

It’s not the first time there have been calls to end the party in Bali. In 2015 the Prohibition of Alcoholic Drinks Bill was first introduced but discussions in parliament were stalled. The proposed law sparked furious debate as well as protests from tourism bosses, local communities and alcohol producers.

Five years on and Indonesia’s House of Representatives is set to resume their debate over the controversial bill, after politicians linked to the Islam-based United Development Party filed a request.

“This bill aims to keep the public from harm, create order, protect the public from alcoholics and create awareness about the dangers of alcohol consumption,” said Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal from the United Development Party, according to the Jakarta Post

However, others in the country’s parliament are concerned about the crushing effect this will have on the already fragile economy, as it attempts to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. After Indonesia closed its borders in April the holiday island of Bali lost up to an estimated 9.7 trillion rupiah (around £551.3 million) of revenue each month as hotels, restaurants and bars were closed and flights suspended. Its borders are likely to remain closed until 2021.

“This bill prohibits the production, distribution, storage, and consumption of alcohol. It will kill a lot of businesses and lead to thousands of people without jobs. It’s not in line with the government’s goal to create as many jobs as possible,” said Christina Aryani from the opposing Golkar party, who claims the bill’s supporters are using out-of-date research to support their case, according to the Post.

The new law could see anybody caught producing or distributing alcohol in Bali facing 10 years in prison and a fine up to 1 billion rupiah (roughly £53,700), while consumption is punished with a draconian three years incarceration and a 50 million rupiah fine (roughly £2,000). 

However there are some proposed exceptions where alcohol may be permitted, including traditional rituals, religious ceremonies, in establishments with special permits and tourism – but with no details to what extent.

AA Ngurah Adi Ardhana, who is a member of the Regional Legislative Council in Bali, claims the foundations of the bill’s argument are “too shallow.”

“The academic study seems too shallow, Bali will definitely reject it, we are a unitary state built on diversity,” he said.

“If the proposed bill returns and turns around by not looking at the practice in the field and merely taking into account the wishes of a group of people, it will be very unfair for the community who traditionally and culturally can accept alcoholic drinks,” said Adi, according to local reports.

The holiday island, which is almost entirely dependent on tourism, sees millions of visitors flock to its picture-perfect beaches and lively resorts each year, from all over the world. Will the call for last orders put them off visiting? In a poll on Twitter the majority of Telegraph readers say they wouldn’t consider going on holiday to a destination where they couldn’t enjoy their favourite tipple.

“We are currently already struggling with the pandemic. How will we get people to come when our border reopens? How are we supposed to revive tourism in Bali, or in Indonesia? Not only international tourists but also domestic tourists will think why should they go to Bali for a holiday when they can't even enjoy a bottle of beer?” Ricky Putra, the chairman of the Bali Hotel Association, told The Sydney Morning Herald – the island is a holiday mecca for young Australians who accounted for an estimated 1.3 million visits this year before the pandemic hit.

If the law is passed, Indonesia will join the short list of countries around the world where alcohol is banned, including the Maldives (where you can only booze in your holiday resort), Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait (where alcohol is only available in certain foreign embassies). 

In a recent overhaul of laws in the United Arab Emirates alcohol consumption has been decriminalised, penalties will no longer be imposed against those found drinking alcohol without a licence.