By Mellica McPherson-Ganda
After years of calls for consumer protection in the Territory action is being taken as Junior Minister of Trade, and Eighth District Representative, Hon. Marlon Penn announced that plans to have consumer protection in the Territory is moving swiftly ahead with an estimation that the draft legislation will be ready by the first quarter of 2017.
In an interview with The Island Sun newspaper this week, Hon. Penn disclosed that the Territory received a visit in September from a CARICOM group that is drafting a model legislation that relates to consumer protection and consumer affairs issues.
Following consultation with the group, Hon. Penn said that Ms. Lizette George from the Premier’s Office, who is also the Territory’s Policy Analyst traveled to Grenada for a working meeting that among other things looked at the overall consumer protection policy.
“She was able to make some suggestions in terms of how it can be improved and advanced. I understand from the update from Ms. George that it was a good meeting with the team, so they are looking forward to sending a draft to us,” Hon. Penn pointed out.
The Junior Minister said that he wants the community to know that Government is working on delivering the promised consumers protection legilsation: “Something is happening, we are several steps closer to establishing consumer protection in the Territory. The draft legislation came out of the discussions in Grenada held over a week and a half ago.”
In addition to the draft policy Hon. Penn mentioned that work is starting on the ground and he disclosed that a paper to establish a committee to deal with legislation will be heading to the next Cabinet meeting.
“We actually have a paper that is going to Cabinet to establish a committee. It should be going to Cabinet if not this meeting, then next week hopefully to put together a committee, which is actually going to look at the legislation, and look at the enhancement as it relates to all the other different legislations we have such as hotel aid and so forth, and how we will improve those legislations, and do an amalgamation of all of the legislative frameworks,” Hon. Penn explained.
Meanwhile Hon. Penn said that work has also started to establish a policy guideline in terms of what the committee will look at as it relates to the legislative framework. The proposed committee is expected to comprise of someone from the Attorney General’s Chambers, Trade Department, the Premier’s Office, and the policy arm of government, as well as a person from the private sector to assist in the process.
The Junior Minister for Trade is pushing to at least have a draft consumer protection legislation ready by early next year: “Once we get that committee established the committee will look at that legislation and see how it can fit that into BVI context. Hopefully once we get that committee established we will start to look at the legislative framework. Our target is to get a draft legislation ready for discussion by the first quarter of next year,” he said.
However, the Junior Minister pointed out that it is not clear if the proposed legislation will become a Bill or an amendment to the current trade legislation: “We are not sure that we are going to put that as part of the consumer protection legislation right now or whether we are going to put it as part of the improvement that we are making with trade legislation, so that is something for us to discuss.”
When asked what areas, he is hoping to see tackled once the consumer legislation is passed, the Junior Minister disclosed that he is not happy about some business practices. In explaining his concern, he said: “We have situations where we have multinational companies that are doing business and are trying to create monopoly situations…We have to be careful about that in terms of the BVI having a small economy and we don’t allow the big multinational economy to pretty much monopolize the entire economy. We have to have legislation that protects small businesses.”
However, Hon. Penn said that the legislation is not going to be one sided and ignore the concerns of businesses, but rather take a holistic look at the situation: “We have to look at all the things that bring hardships to consumers. We have to ensure that the consumer is not being disenfranchised or taken advantage of from some business,” he said.
“I understand that there are concerns from businesses in terms of how banks administer their fees and so forth to the businesses. Those are things that we have to look at as well, so that the banks are not also taking advantage of the businesses in terms of the kind of fees that are levied to the businesses that they have to pass on to consumer. So, it is a balancing act that we have to strike. I think we have to protect the consumers but we also have to make sure that the businesses are not experiencing hardship as well from the banking side,” the Junior Minister added.