Out-of-control Public Health Ministry inspectors padded their already bulging wallets Friday when they fined the mom-and-pop owners of a Nonthaburi somtam restaurant 17,000 for putting a photo of a beer on the wall.
Khamnai Mamadam, 52, owner of the Laab Lung Yao on Chaeng Watthana Road in Pak Kret District posted to Facebook on Friday that ministry regulatory officers came in, saw the eatery’s menu on the wall and pointed to a photo of a beer on the menu. A letter telling them to go to the local police to pay a fine up to 50,000 baht arrived.
The owners were accused of illegal promotion of alcohol under the infamous Article 32 of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, a blunt instrument Alcohol Control Office and Health Ministry plods have been wielding to extract huge sums out of beer distributors and ordinary Thais.
While Thailand has ramped up its war on alcohol – done largely to protect the country’s largest brewers and distillers from competition – by banning sales of booze online, Article 32 is aimed at simple promotion of alcohol anywhere.
In the case of Laab Lung Yao, the offense was a thumbnail-sized photo of a beer on a busy A4-sized menu on the wall. The somtam were justifiably apoplectic.
“We have no money to pay this fine and have no idea what to do,” they wrote on Facebook. “How is this justified? It is a perversion of the law? It’s become a way to hurt the little opele and become a way for some people to enrich themselves.”
And they would be right. Over-the-top enforcement of the law began in June with a 50,000-baht fine against a major beer distributor. But soon ordinary Thais taking selfies with a cold beer were being fined 17,000 baht.
Despite some public outcry, no one reined in the criminals in uniform and the fines have gotten larger. Public Health inspectors this past week were out in Bangkok threatening fines of 500,000 baht for supposed infractions that aren’t even deliniated in the law.
In Thailand there’s the law, and then its what the enforcers say it is.