Ram­jat­tan favours rais­ing al­co­hol buy­ing age to 21

Stabroek News Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Khem­raj Ram­jat­tan is in favour of rais­ing the le­gal age for the pur­chase of al­co­hol to 21, al­though he ad­mits it could be a hard sell to the pop­u­lace.

“I’ll cer­tainly sup­port that but of course you are gonna get a lot of Guyanese who are 18-yearolds say­ing, ‘We must be free to choose… be­cause we are adults…why can we vote but we can’t get a drink.’ You will have a lot of ar­gu­ments,” Ram­jat­tan said on Fri­day, shortly after the clos­ing cer­e­mony for a po­lice train­ing pro­gramme had ended.

At present, the laws pro­hibit any­one un­der the age of 18 from buy­ing al­co­hol, al­though it also says that any­one over 16 can buy or be given al­co­hol if it is to be con­sumed with a meal pro­vided in part of the li­censed premises that is not a bar. The laws also pro­hibit any­one un­der the age of 16 from be­ing in the bar of any li­censed premises. Al­though a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of sell­ers do not ad­here to the laws, mon­i­tor­ing and en­force­ment is dif­fi­cult for au­thor­i­ties.

Mean­while, Ram­jat­tan also told re­porters that he is will­ing to work along with the min­is­ters of So­cial Co­he­sion, Health and Ed­u­ca­tion to as­sist in bring­ing the al­co­hol abuse sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try un­der con­trol.

“It is a disease in this coun­try,” he stressed, be­fore also not­ing that en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tions to curb ex­ces­sive drink­ing is needed.

He pointed to the cur­rent 2 am cur­few on the sale of al­co­hol at bars. “I was only im­ple­ment­ing the 2 o’clock cur­few. It was there all the time,” he said. The en­force­ment of this reg­u­la­tion to stop of the sale of al­co­hol from 2 am re­sulted in Ram­jat­tan be­ing heav­ily crit­i­cised.

The Pri­vate Sec­tor Com­mis­sion (PSC)’s call to ease the 2 am cur­few to 4 am on week­ends and hol­i­days was not en­ter­tained by Ram­jat­tan, who main­tained that he was sim­ply en­forc­ing the law.

“There are lots of other laws that have to do with young chil­dren... the shop keep­ers can’t sell to young people and a num­ber of other things, in­clud­ing the hours and when a per­son is feel­ing ine­bri­ated and seen by the bar­tender, the bar­tender can send him home,” Ram­jat­tan added.

“What we gotta do now is en­force those reg­u­la­tions. Al­co­holism is a big prob­lem in Guyana and it has led also to con­se­quen­tial chal­lenges, [such as] bad driv­ing, which has re­sulted in deaths and so many other things...loss of limbs and dam­age to prop­erty.

It has also led to tremen­dous do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in homes and then, of course, that has other con­se­quen­tial is­sues, like the child not be­ing brought up prop­erly, daddy beat­ing up mommy and a num­ber of things…,” he pointed out.

A 2016 House­hold Drug Sur­vey had found that there was a preva­lence of al­co­hol binge drink­ing among 64.2% of male re­spon­dents and 46.3% of fe­male re­spon­dents. It did, how­ever, also find that first use was on av­er­age at 18.7 years.

In the wake of a dou­bling of drunk driv­ing cases in 2015, Pres­i­dent David Granger had as­sured Stabroek News last year that his gov­ern­ment was very con­cerned about ex­ces­sive drink­ing and the ef­fects it was hav­ing on the coun­try.

He had de­scribed al­co­hol abuse as “one of two evils” that the coun­try has to con­tain and as­sured that, over time, mea­sures would be put in place to deal with it.

So­cial Co­he­sion Min­is­ter Dr. Nor­ton, while at the helm of the Health Min­istry, had told this news­pa­per that there was no need to make a spe­cial ef­fort to see the harm al­co­hol abuse is caus­ing in Guyana.

“We just have to look at our road ac­ci­dents and we will see the harm­ful ef­fects of al­co­hol… road deaths are one of the most bla­tant harm­ful ef­fects. It [al­co­hol] will cause vi­o­lence, both in­ter­per­sonal and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and would in­clude in­juries, not only from traf­fic ac­ci­dents but also in the work­place, emo­tional dis­tress and we know this can lead to de­pres­sion and which re­sults in the main cause of sui­cide and economic in­sta­bil­ity where per­sons find them­selves in more fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties be­cause of the pur­chase of al­co­hol,” he had said. “In the in­ter­est of pub­lic health, the min­istry can con­trol ac­cess to al­co­hol through a pol­icy, which will in­clude the gov­ern­ment mo­nop­o­li­sa­tion of the busi­ness, lim­it­ing the hours and days for the sale of al­co­hol and en­force­ment of the min­i­mum pur­chas­ing age,” he had added.

The pol­icy that Nor­ton spoke of is yet to be de­vel­oped.

Last September, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that not much has been done in re­spect of a de­fined pol­icy, Nor­ton had said that the adop­tion of some in­ter­na­tional best prac­tices is the ap­proach that gov­ern­ment would be fol­low­ing.

He iden­ti­fied the re­duc­tion of the avail­abil­ity of al­co­hol by in­creas­ing taxes as one such ap­proach. He had ex­pressed cer­tainty that the taxes can be in­creased and said that it has to be done. “It is some­thing I would ad­vo­cate for, I will push for and I think I will get the sup­port for,” he had said, while adding that had plans to be­gin a se­ries of con­sul­ta­tions with non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, such as PAHO/ WHO.

PAHO Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Guyana Dr Wil­liam Adu-Krow pre­vi­ously said that pro­grammes are needed to pro­mote re­spon­si­ble drink­ing as well as to steer people away from de­pen­dency.

“Al­co­hol is a ma­jor is­sue; I have raised it sev­eral times. Nor­mally the re­sponse that I get is that, ‘Oh, we have our world renowned rum and there­fore you can­not say too much about al­co­hol,’” Adu-Krow had said.

Adu-Krow while ad­vo­cat­ing for re­spon­si­ble drink­ing, had said that in­stead of just im­pos­ing pun­ish­ment, ef­fec­tive pro­grammes need to be cre­ated and im­ple­mented to steer people away from a life of al­co­hol.

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