Vietnam legislators: Alcohol bill not influenced by lobbying

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The National Assembly general secretary, asked if interest groups have influenced a bill against alcohol, has assured that lobbying cannot sway the lawmaking process.

Nguyen Hanh Phuc was speaking at a press conference on Monday where the draft law on the prevention of dangers of alcoholic drinks was the key topic. Some reporters asked how the National Assembly (NA) could prevent interest groups from influencing legislation when there were reports that some lawmakers had traveled abroad at the invitation of alcohol companies before the bill came up for discussion.

Customers hold glasses of beer at a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 24, 2017

Deputy head of the NA’s Committee on Social Affairs, Bui Sy Loi, who was also present, said he has also been accused of being a lobbyist for alcohol companies though he had turned down all invitations to attend conferences by foreign businesses and organizations.

While his committee did send some delegates overseas, the purpose of the trips was to study other countries’ policies, he said.

“If there were delegates who traveled overseas at businesses’ invitations for lobbying and not to study policies, it is against our regulations.”

But Loi said businesses have the right to lobby, saying the key point is to safeguard the interests of all parties in accordance with regulations and NA delegates do not have to take on board every demand.

“Thirteen agencies have sent documents on this bill to the NA’s Standing Committee, and we must collate these opinions. This is also very normal. The important thing [for this bill] is to maintain discipline, the law and meet the requirements of taking care of public health.”

Phuc said only a few, if any, delegates joined businesses’ survey trips and “there is no way to lobby to nearly 500 NA delegates” since “with the very strict process for developing legal documents, businesses cannot influence even if they want to.”

“The law must respect the rights and interests of the people, businesses and the state.”

The press conference came after the parliament rejected a curfew on the sale of alcoholic drinks proposed by the Ministry of Health last week.

The health ministry proposed in a bill aiming to reduce alcohol consumption that Vietnam bans the sale of all alcohol drinks from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day. But only 224 or 46.3 percent of deputies agreed with the proposal. The approval of more than half the deputies is needed for a bill or provision to be passed.

The legislators also voted down another provision in the bill. Only 44 percent of them said yes to banning those found with alcohol content in their blood or breath from driving on the streets.

Loi said on Monday that his committee and the bill’s authors have been receptive to opinions to help strenghthen alcohol control, including the government’s request to reintroduce regulations on increasing special consumption tax on alcohol.

The alcohol control bill was first submitted to the National Assembly in late 2018 and has gone through two rounds of discussions. It is expected to be passed on Friday.

But many people have expressed concern it might have been influenced by alcohol companies after some key provisions were removed from it, including a ban on online liquor sales, which is aimed at limiting its availability.

In response to VnExpress‘ question about the removal at the Monday press meeting, Loi said this has been agreed upon by both the government and his committee since such a ban would be incompatible with Vietnam’s trade agreements and international commitments as well as its legal provisions on trade and advertising.

Alcohol, especially beer, is widely consumed in Vietnam. Data from the Ministry of Health shows 305 million liters of liquor and 4.1 billion liters of beer were consumed in 2017, making Vietnam the biggest alcohol market in Southeast Asia and the third biggest in Asia after Japan and China.

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