Alcohol tax, violence and the poorest of the poor

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The Government and the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, have got a legitimate point about the need to address the growing violence attributed to easy access to cheap and locally made spirits.

We’ve seen in the recent past how destructive and deadly such spirits can become when they are consumed by the wrong people under all sorts of circumstances. 

You see, over the years and especially more recently, this newspaper has highlighted countless stories of violent incidents, fights, killings and the issue of domestic violence involving alcohol. 

One of the most common factors in all these stories is the involvement of cheap liquor anyone can buy off the shelves of the local shops. 

One of the scariest aspects is the poor enforcement of laws that are supposed to prevent easy access to them. In this country today, one can just send a child to buy alcohol and no questions will be asked. That is not normal but this shows the extent of the problem.

Not only are these lethal alcohol products readily available, there is absolutely no control being exercised over who can buy what and how. 

During Parliament’s most recent session, the former Speaker of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt, raised an extremely valid point when he had asked the Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr. LeaoTuitama, to look into the emergence of new alcohol products locally produced.

Claiming that these alcohol products are wreaking havoc on families, villages and in gatherings of young people, La’auli said the Government needs to pay attention to the issue.

 “These bottles are not alcohol,” he said about what’s available in the market. “They are not vodka, they are basically industrial spirits that shouldn’t even be available out there.”

The former Speaker went on to say that one of the biggest problems is that members of the public have easy access to these spirits because they are widely available and cheap.

“Can we find out who is bringing these into Samoa?” he asked.  “These things are cheap but they pose a big risk to our country in the long run.”

We couldn’t agree more with La’auli. This is a conversation that needs to continue and we need to pay serious attention to it. The fact is that when we look at some of the domestic problems happening in Samoa today, we don’t think there is enough attention being given to how much these alcoholic products are contributing factors.

That said, we accept that it would be foolish to blame all our problems on alcohol. Of course there are many other factors. Besides, we know different people react differently to alcohol. We also know people go through so many different things in life and when those things involve stress and suffering, alcohol will no doubt bring out the worst in them – including violence.

This is why this conversation needs to continue.

Now today, according to Minister Tialavea, the Government has imposed a 100 per cent increase in excise tax on locally-producedspirits as part of an attempt to address alcohol-related violence.

“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,” said Tialavea.

Minister Tialavea added that the data was based on information collected by the police, which led to the compiling of the report and the decision to impose a tax increase.

Is the Government genuine about its motives for imposing this tax? That is the question. From a public relations point of view, the Government can be seen as the responsible authority that’s stepping up to the right thing. Nothing wrong with that.

But is the concern for people’s welfare the true motive or is this just another money-making venture so that this Government continues to suck money out of people who are already poor? We know for a fact that the top 20 per cent of the population in terms of wealth don’t drink any of this stuff. It is the poorest of the poor who do. And they are the ones who are going to pay. 

Interesting, isn’t it?

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us.

Have a fabulous week Samoa, God bless!

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