By Demion McTair. Updated 11:37 a.m., Sunday, August 16, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Kingstown, St. Vincent (ONE NEWS SVG) – Consumers of goods and services in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), now have stronger protections, avenues, and the establishment of a department through which they can seek redress if they feel their rights have been impinged upon.
After a long period at the select committee, the Consumer Protection Bill successfully passed all of its stages in Parliament on Friday, August 14, 2020.
The bill, which establishes the Consumer Protection Act 2020, will now go to the Governor-General for her Assent, at which time it will become law.
The new measure provides for the promotion and protection of consumer interests in relation to the supply of goods and services; ensures the protection of life, health, and safety of consumers; provides for the establishment of a department responsible for consumer affairs, and connected purposes.
One of its key offerings is the establishment of a Consumer Affairs Department which would have legal teeth to bring justice to deserving consumers.
In the debate on the bill, Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves said that there is, currently, the Trade and Consumer Affairs Department which operates under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Commerce, but it does not “have a body of law enumerating rights”.
“Often, what they had to do when faced with a complaint was to try to use moral suasion because they didn’t have a body of law enumerating rights,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the measure brought by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sir. Louis Straker now has the legislative framework through which a department can operate to guarantee rights for consumers.
The measure puts a structure in place to “hear complaints, investigate complaints, and adjudicate complaints,” Gonsalves said.
“This document establishes a consumer department. It establishes a procedure for the settlement of complaints through a consumer protection tribunal, and it lists in very real ways, the duties of not only the consumer but that of the supplier,” Gonsalves said.
For consumers, they would be able to seek redress on matters involving hazardous products, scamming, false advertising, bait and switch, defective products, and less value service than agreed to, among other matters.
For businesses, they would be safeguarded against actions that seek to traduce them for operating legally.
Activists and ordinary Vincentians have been calling for stronger legal protections for consumers for years.