Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya on Monday tried to quell the controversy over a vaguely worded junta order banning alcohol sales “near” educational institutions, denying it prohibits booze sales within 300 metres of schools and that enforcement will depend upon the drawing of new entertainment zones.
The minister 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 300 metres of any school, he added.
The comments come after a weekend of confusion and conjecture over exactly what the government was doing with regards to alcohol sales.
The National Council for Peace and Order last week published an order under Section 44 of the interim constitution stating only that alcohol could not be sold "near" schools, colleges and universities, but did not set a radius for the dry zones.
That order followed by days the cabinet's affirmation of a Prime Minister's Office set of regulations to ban booze within 300 metres of universities and technical colleges. However, that directive has not been published in the Royal Gazette and would not become law until 30 days after it was.
The seemingly overlapping orders left both the public and police confused over what areas were legal, with tabloid websites speculating that large swaths of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket would be designated dry zones.
Police, meanwhile, immediately began enforcing the Section 44 order, raiding and shutting down pubs near Rangsit University in Pathum Thani and the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce this weekend.
Seemingly trying to cool the furore, Gen Paiboon on Monday said people "misunderstood" the Section 44 order.
In fact, the Interior Ministry has been ordered to survey areas before determining alcohol-free zones. That survey, and the resulting new zoning, will take six months.
Previous zoning, he noted, had last been done in 2002 but urbanisation has changed many areas. New entertainment zones were now needed, he said.
He noted that, under current zoning, many bars were operating illegally. However, after drawing up new areas, those bars may end up being legal.
He said zoning of entertainment areas should be done every two years.