Capitalise on gains in the battle against alcohol-fuelled violence
Two years ago alcohol-fuelled violent crime was heading towards crisis levels with even the Supreme Court Justices expressing concern and calling for action.
The then police commissioner Fuiavaili'ili Egon Keil decried the impact that alcoholic beverages were having on people in January 2021 and their direct link with violent cases in the country including death.
When the former top cop expressed his concerns, during an interview at that time with the Samoa Observer, the Police were grappling with four homicide cases leading up to New Year 1 January 2021 with preliminary investigations pointing to alcohol being a factor in three of the cases.
Two months prior to the four New Year homicide cases in January last year, a Supreme Court Justice highlighted the impact of locally-produced Rover Vodka, and its connection to a manslaughter case of a 38-year-old man who died after he was stoned.
“This case brings to the fore yet again the dangers of excess alcohol consumption of locally produced Rover vodka for which there is insufficient public awareness,” said Supreme Court Justice, Tologata Tafaoimalo Tuala-Warren during the hearing.
“I share my colleagues’ and the Police Commissioner’s concerns about the role locally produced vodka plays in the commission of crimes.
“The relevant authorities are encouraged to address the issue of locally produced vodka as it has featured largely in offending behaviour which has come before the courts."
The concerns expressed by the Police and Supreme Court justices didn’t go unnoticed. In February this year the new Government issued a temporary ban targeting Pacific Rainbow Liquor Company Ltd, the local manufacturer of Rover Vodka. Its factory at Vaitele tai has been shut for the last eight months.
Two years after local law enforcement authorities began expressing concern at high alcohol content beverages and its impact on the rule of law, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
An article (Shut factory pointing to less vodka fuelled cases) in the Thursday 24 November 2022 edition of the Samoa Observer quotes court officials reporting a drastic drop in violence cases.
A court registrar and lawyers told the Samoa Observer, that the number of people appearing on Mondays for the Supreme Court criminal mention, has drastically dropped from over 40 to less than 20 in recent months.
Previously, it was a common scene on Mondays every week to see a full courtroom, most of them facing charges for grievous bodily harm or the more serious offence of attempted murder, with the alleged offending occurring while the defendants were intoxicated.
"The number of offending that involved alcohol, particularly Rover [Vodka], has dropped drastically over the months," said a defence lawyer.
"You only need to look at the mention list to confirm that. I used to get a lot of clients in the past years that were involved in some dispute due to drinking Rover.
“But lately there hasn't been any which is a good sign...the most common offence now that most lawyers are appearing for is sexual cases."
The observation by the court registrar and the lawyers of the drop in violence cases being registered at the Court registry is good news indeed.
We commend the current Government for acting swiftly to close the Rover Vodka factory while its investigations got underway. It was the right thing to do at that time so obviously, eight months later, we are all seeing the benefits.
The fact that cases have dropped during Supreme Court criminal mention from over 40 to less than 20 in recent months – for offences that are linked to alcohol consumption – can also be attributed to the work of the Samoa Police Service in partnership with the village councils.
But we are not out of the woods yet and the challenge remains on how the community can maintain that status quo of minimal violent cases linked to alcohol consumption.
What can and should be done to maintain this status quo? Obviously, we think the shutting of the factory was a major factor, but that was a temporary order, so what is the Government’s long-term plan going forward?
The Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Liquor Control Board, Tuala Tevaga Ponifasio, in April this year defended the ban on the production, distribution and sale of all locally manufactured Vodka alcohol products while also indicating that it was only temporary.
Now that we are beginning to see the impact of the ban – in terms of the dropping number of cases going before the Courts – the Government should capitalise on this momentum and consider the formulation of policies that can capture the essence of this success long-term.
Over the years many families in Samoa have paid the ultimate price with the loss of loved ones to alcohol-fuelled violence, now is the time to think of long-term policies that will tackle this scourge once and for all.
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