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Raids on nightlife venues in Phuket Town on Monday night (July 27) marked the island’s first foray into clamping down on venues selling alcohol near educational institutions – an issue that has sparked confusion and controversy in Bangkok.
Phuket Provincial Police Commander Maj Gen Pachara Boonyasit on Tuesday (July 28) called the chiefs of all police stations in Phuket to a meeting at Provincial Police headquarters in Phuket Town to order them to enforce the ban on the sale of alcohol within 300 metres of any “educational institution”.
Gen Pachara explained that he understood “educational institutions” to include all places of education, from pre-schools and kindergartens to primary and secondary schools to technology institutes, polytechnic colleges and university campuses.
“Everything must be followed by the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] command published on July 23, which means we are to inspect all areas near education places in Phuket,” he said.
Provincial Police Deputy Commander Col Theerapol Tipcharoen was terse in his warning. “Anyone found selling alcohol within 300m of any educational place, get ready to be closed down. We have to protect children, that is the national command,” he told The Phuket News.
More than 100 officers, including naval security personnel, staged the raids on nightlife venues throughout Phuket Town on Monday night to ensure that operators were not selling alcohol to underage youths. Officers also checked for drugs and to ensure that venue operators had the required licenses to sell alcohol.
The raids began at 10pm after Phuket Governor Nisit Jansomwong passed down the order to make sure all officers throughout Phuket were upholding their duty “to enforce the law seriously to decrease crime and social problems and to protect teenagers from alcohol”
Phuket City Police Superintendent Col Kraithong Chanthongbai told The Phuket News that any operators found breaking the order will have their licenses to sell alcohol revoked.
“Phuket City Police will check all areas within city limits, including Sapan Hin and the Baan Kuku area [in Rassada]. They will seize alcohol licenses from any restaurants or bars found breaking the law,” assured.
Meanwhile, Col Akanit Danpitaksan, Deputy Superintendent of Kathu Police station, confirmed the order will be upheld in Patong.
“This act clearly covers every province, and that includes Phuket,” he said. “There are two schools in Patong: Sai Nam Yen School and Wat Suwankhiriwong School, and we will check the areas around both.”
Col Akanit pointed out the police will not be working alone. “Other officials such as Patong Municipality and Phuket Health officials have to work with us,” he said.
While the current interpretation of the law seems harsh, Gen Pachara on Wednesday said this would apply until further notice. Any changes in the understanding of how the law is to be applied will be clarified by orders received from Bangkok, he added.
CONFUSION IN THE CAPITAL
The confusion over the alcohol-free perimeter around places of education follows two separate law-making incidents. The first legal measure was an amendment to the 2008 Control of Alcoholic Beverage Act passed by the Office of Prime Minister on July 22. The amendment outlawed the sale of alcohol within 300m of the “boundary” of universities and colleges, both public and private. Lower schools were not included in the ban.
The amendment, which will come into effect 30 days after its publication in the Royal Gazette, also exempted hotels, wholesale factories and distributors, and businesses within “entertainment zones”.
In Bangkok, currently only Patpong district and parts of New Petchburi Rd and Ratchadapisek Rd are considered entertainment zones. Likewise, Phuket currently has only two entertainment zones: Patong’s Soi Bangla and 50m either side of it; and Taina Road in Karon.
Following the July 22 amendment, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also the leader NCPO, issued a separate order the next day – July 23 – that became effective immediately. The order was issued through the harsh penalties dictated through Section 44 of the interim constitution, sending a shudder of fear through the nightlife-operator community in Bangkok.
The NCPO order forbid the sale of alcohol in the “vicinity” of “educational institutions” and student dormitories. The scope of “vicinity” and “educational institutions” was not specified in the order, though the latter is defined in existing laws as including all levels of education, such as elementary schools and high schools.
The ensuing confusion has left operators and officials struggling to understand which order applies now and to who, and which definitions will apply after the July 22 amendment comes into effect later this year.
Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya on Monday tried to quell the controversy over the vaguely worded July 23 order banning alcohol sales “near” educational institutions, denying it prohibited booze sales within 300m of schools.
He also said that enforcement depended on the formation of new entertainment zones.
Minister Paiboon said it would take 180 days to draw up new entertainment zones that would clarify where alcohol could and could not be sold legally.
Until then, there’s nothing that says existing operators cannot sell booze within 300m of any school, he said.