M.P.M.C. Press Secretary - Attorney General Lemalu Herman Retzlaff has taken on board the recommendations from the Samoa Law Reform Commission to overhaul the current Alcohol Act.
Known as the Alcohol Control Bill 2017, Lemalu says that he fully endorses the recommendations from the Commission and his office has “commenced work towards advising Government leadership towards formalizing the laws to hold the law breakers accountable.”
The issues addressed included: the alcohol licensing system; regulating the sale and supply of alcohol by controlling availability; reducing demand of alcohol through taxation and minimum pricing scheme; advertising and sponsorship; enforcement; reducing alcohol-related problems; and responsibilities of parents, village council and churches.
The Commission not only recommended greater regulation of the alcohol industry but has also recommended the implementation of alcohol education and awareness programs and policy measures as well as the strengthening of existing programs.
A significant part of the Commission’s recommendations focussed on enforcement. The enforcement around alcohol regulation was raised as a grave concern during the Commission’s public consultations. The Commission’s report discusses at length the inadequacy of enforcement authority given to Police.
The Commission was informed that these powers were limited to closing down licensed premises that operated after the trading hours and making a report to the LCB which would make a decision.
The enforcement powers did not provide any deterrent as there were no real repercussions for breaching licence conditions.
Therefore, the Commission’s recommendations focussed on bolstering the Police’s ability to effectively administer and enforce alcohol laws.
The Commission has recommended the creation of infringement notices, similar to New Zealand, which are essentially instant fines for breaching the conditions of a licence.
The Commission has recommended for Police to be able to issue infringement notices in certain circumstances including: where minors are permitted to enter bars and nightclubs; where minors are permitted to purchase alcohol; where a licensed premises fails to comply with maximum trading hours; where beer towers and cocktail jugs are sold or supplied outside the permitted hours and failing to comply with requirements and restrictions imposed under the Act.
The Commission has recommended for an infringement notice and fine to be imposed on the first breach of a licence condition.
A second breach would receive a higher fine.
Finally, a third breach would impose a higher fine as well as suspension of the licence for a certain period stipulated under the legislation (the Commission gave an example of 4 weeks).
Aside from fines, the Commission also recommended that the Police be able to order the closure of a premises for a set period in certain serious circumstances (for example 48 hours). These serious circumstances can include, for example, where there is serious disorder or a significant threat to public safety, etc.
The Commission hopes that providing broader enforcement powers would act as an effective deterrent for licensees to prevent them from breaching their licence conditions.
The Commission recommended that the legal age to purchase alcohol should be maintained at 21. The Commission also retained the exception under the Liquor Act 2011 to allow a minor to be supplied alcohol provided the minor is under the responsible supervision of a parent or legal guardian.
The Commission recommended for infringement fines to be given to licensees that allow minors on the premises or unlawfully supply alcohol to minors. Given as these fines increase significantly for continued breaches and may result in suspension, the Commission anticipates that this could assist in curbing underage drinking in Samoa.