The Government’s decision to impose a 100 per cent increase in excise on locally-produced vodka is an attempt to address the increasing number of alcohol-related violence.
Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, told Samoa Observer in an interview that the recommendations to increase excise on liquor came from a report submitted to Cabinet by the Ministry of Police.
The new tax went into effect in April this year but it was met with confusion and frustration from several local manufacturers, liquor sale outlets and hoteliers, who charged that they were not consulted before it went into effect.
Tialavea told Parliament in March this year that a lot of the incidents that the police respond to in villages on a daily basis are mostly triggered by alcohol-consumption. When the Minister was asked how liquor was singled out in the Government’s new tax policy, he said the report from the Ministry of Police recommended action against local vodka makers, as police allege most incidents were connected to its consumption.
“The police made a report to the Liquor Board, and there seems to be just one main road that are the cause of these issues (in the villages) to occur and that is the locally-produced vodka.”
When the Minister was asked how the data presented in the report pointed to locally-produced vodka, he said.
“You can ask the police because it’s their report and they gave it to our Liquor Board, but it’s not up to us to distribute it. I think I remember (from the data) that there were 70 per cent of incidents that occur because of the local vodka. The data was shown on a graph.”
Tialavea added that the data was based on information collected by the police, which led to the compiling of the report and its recommendations.
“It’s depending on what the people tell the police when they do their questioning and they find that it is mostly vodka that is being consumed. It’s not like they go in there and specifically ask if they are drunk on beer, or wine or spirit."
But perhaps the most commonly reported type of alcohol was the locally-produced vodka (that’s the strongest out of all of them) which is why the police put together the report which was given to us by Cabinet to see if there was something we could do about it.”
While Tialavea acknowledged that the consumption of alcohol such as beer do not necessarily cause domestic violence, he said violence within a family can be triggered ‘out of nowhere’ and the Government’s biggest concern is fights among youth.
“But it’s the fights that break out amongst young people who fight, some ending in deaths. The main cause when investigated by police was ‘vodka’ – not whiskey. Vodka is by far the biggest denominator,” he added.
The new excise law also includes an increase of 3 per cent for imported and local sugary drinks including beer and wine. But when Tialavea was asked why the Government did not apply the 100 per cent increase to beer and wine, he said the cheap cost of a vodka bottle could be the issue.
“I think it’s the cost. The vodka bottle is cheaper and in those days it’s around $20-23 Tala.
But if you spend $26 Tala and buy beer you won’t get drunk, but with a bottle of vodka with an excess of 50 per cent (alcohol), there are more people who can get drunk off that.”