Act now to reduce alcohol-related crime

Only four days into the new year and four people have already perished, either victims of alleged crime or the tragic circumstance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But there is a common thread linking some of the alleged criminal actions – alcohol.

Police Commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil highlighted the link between one of the deaths during the New Year period and alcohol, and lamented how alcoholic beverages were literally killing citizens.

He said a death last Friday morning was the result of a “drink up gone wrong” at Fagaloa village, that saw a 24-year-old man die after he was stabbed in the chest.

“Police have the weapon used [...] in our custody,” he told the Samoa Observer.

The Commissioner said preliminary investigations by the Police suggested that locally-produced alcohol was involved in the incident, as he appealed to the public for responsible consumption of alcohol. 

“This [alcohol] is literally killing our people,” he said. “But there is only so much we can do about it as Police. We need to work with others.”

It appears Fuiavaili'ili’s last comments on how the Police can only do so much to address the issue (linking alcohol consumption and crime), is an indirect appeal to the Government and the relevant Ministries to act.

But what more can the Commissioner say when he has been raising similar concerns over the last two to three years? 

In January last year the Chairman of the Liquor Board, Minister Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, announced that the Government is drafting a new law to regulate the advertising and promotion of alcohol and alcoholic products in Samoa.

The bill, which is in its draft stages, is expected to be tabled in Parliament some time this year (2020), Tialavea said. "[The bill] will have criteria for the advertisement of alcohol. New regulations and control mechanisms for the advertisements [of alcohol to be put in place] by the Liquor Board will all be in the new bill.”

The Minister said at that time that the proposed law, if passed by the Parliament, would replace the Liquor Act 2011.

There has been no progress over a 11-month period by the Government or the relevant Ministry, since Tialavea made that statement.

And, sadly, alcohol-related crime has continued unabated over the last 12 months despite the concerns expressed by the Commissioner.

In fact statistics released in November 2020 by Tialavea’s own Ministry, the Ministry of Police Prisons and Corrections, showed that in the period January–October 2020 a total of 807 domestic crimes were reported with 30 per cent of them involving alcohol. 

That is 562 incidents were non-alcohol connected while 245 were linked to alcohol consumption. And the top five alcohol-related crimes, according to the Ministry’s data, were insulting words (66 cases), assault (56 cases), intentional damage (43 cases) causing injury (40 cases) and (36 cases).

The types of alcohol consumed in the 245 alcohol-related domestic violence cases was also included in the police data. A total of 63 cases were connected to an unknown alcohol; 50 cases (Taula Strong); 42 cases (Rover Vodka); 27 cases (Skyline Olioli–13 per cent alcohol); 23 cases (Skyline Olioli–8 per cent alcohol); Vailima Lager (19 cases); Boom Vodka (11 cases) and Rice Vodka (10 cases).

Surely, the Minister would have been privy to the above statistics from within his own Ministry? The data should have compelled him to progress work on the proposed legislation he announced last January – to date the public is yet to get a progress report on the proposed bill that should have gone before Parliament last year.

In the last sitting of the Parliament in 2020, the Economic Sector Committee chaired by senior MP and former Deputy Prime Minister, Lauofo Fonotoe Meredith, called for alcohol prices to be regulated as part of its work on the Alcohol Control Bill 2018.

“According to the comments, we recorded a very cheap price to buy some alcohol in the country such as the bottle labelled ‘olioli’,” the Committee stated in its report to Parliament. “It is noted that the price does not suit the prescribed strength which is too cheap and can easily be purchased by local people.

“The Committee is reviewing the lower cost of alcohol which caused the greater risk of alcohol-related problems within families and the communities.”

We hope the work on the proposed bill on alcohol advertising and promotion restrictions, which Minister Tialavea alluded to in a statement in January last year, are part of the Alcohol Control Bill 2018 that the Parliamentary Committee is working on.

Too many lives are being lost and families broken apart by alcohol-related crime in this country. The Government should give this priority in the new year.

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