Festive drunkenness calls for attention

By The Editorial Board 10 January 2022, 11:57PM

The recent Christmas and New Year holidays were a festive season just like any other – celebrations with a lot of food and drinks. 

Yes, a lot of drinks. In fact too much of it, that a number of people drove home inebriated and ended up on the wrong side of the law.

An article (Drunkenness dominates festive season arrests) in the Monday 10 January 2022 edition of the Samoa Observer gave details of a Police brief on the number of arrests during Christmas and New Year periods.

Sadly, offences connected with alcohol consumption dominated the arrests over the two weekends, according to the Police.

The Acting Police, Prisons and Corrections Services Commissioner, Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti told the Samoa Observer that between 25-31 December 2021 and 1-4 January 2022 a total of 86 people were arrested.

She nominated assault and drunkenness as the main crimes that the police were called to attend to. People caught drink-driving were also taken in, resulting in a total of 47-alcohol related arrests.

Is there a crisis of alcohol abuse in this country? Yes, we would like to think so, if the Ministry of Police-released statistics from the two weekends as well as data from previous years are any indication.

And we say this with a heavy heart because our alcohol abuse crisis appears to have now become a 12-month cycle, with consequential events spread out over the year impacting families, villages and the country.

Around this time last year, a Supreme Court Judge called out village councils in Samoa for failing to curb what he described as the “pandemic” of alcohol abuse.

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson – before jailing a man for grievous bodily harm and being armed with a dangerous weapon – revealed alcohol was the underlying factor behind most of the cases that went before the Courts.

So what has changed in Samoa in terms of citizens' alcohol consumption habits since Justice Vui made that appeal last year? Unfortunately, very little. 

Penalties imposed by the Courts for the various alcohol-related crimes don’t appear to be a deterrence to the public from committing similar offences. 

In fact data from The Salvation Army Addiction Services showed that there has been a spike in the number of alcohol-related incidents since 2019. In 2019 they received 334 referrals for treatment, which increased to 420 in 2020 and 535 in 2021. For the cases from last year 194 were for driving under the influence. A majority of the cases were received from the Court through the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.) and most of the referrals were for drink-driving.

“We note that after any public holiday including the Christmas festive season, the number of referrals received from M.J.C.A. due to alcohol related incidents is always higher than normal,” said the Partnership Development Manager & Drug Clinician with The Salvation Army, Natalie Senio.

We commend The Salvation Army on its partnership with the M.J.C.A. to address Samoa’s growing alcohol abuse crisis in 2019, one year after the establishment of the church in Samoa in 2018.

But tackling alcohol abuse – like other substance abuse – needs to be community-driven with the support of critical stakeholders like the Government.

We acknowledge attempts by the previous Administration to address the issue through legislation when the last parliament passed the Alcohol Control Act 2020 in a bid to regulate supply, reduce demand and minimise the impact of alcohol sales and consumption on the community.

But monitoring alcohol consumption and keeping tabs on its effects on society – just like any other human behaviour – would be difficult and the jury is still out on the long-term impact and benefits of the Act. 

However, with a new Government in office, it would not hurt re-visiting the issue together with the Act using a new lens in a bid to find lasting solutions. This could include directing the Attorney-General to task the Samoa Law Reform Commission (S.L.R.C.) to undertake another round of public consultations and research on the sale and consumption of alcohol in Samoa and make recommendations for reform.

The last S.L.R.C. led review into the crisis was undertaken in 2013 at the request of the then Attorney-General with the official report released to the then Administration in April 2016. It is understood the April 2016 Alcohol Reform Report was meant to influence the legislative measures including the Alcohol Control Act 2020.

But in the nine years since the last S.L.R.C. review, a lot has changed in Samoa in terms of the consumption habits, the demographic of consumers and their spending power, as well as the growth in civil society and church partnerships with the Government to address the growing crisis.

The Government-of-the-day should make this a top priority in its term of office – if it is to have a fighting chance of reducing fatalities in Samoa connected with alcohol consumption.

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By The Editorial Board 10 January 2022, 11:57PM

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