For years, residents of the Territory have been crying out for consumer protection (with price control mechanism) and once more, there has been a promise that the necessary framework will be put in place to facilitate the establishment of a consumer protection body.
The discourse returned to the table following a rousing debate in the Youth Parliament on the matter, and as a result the media questioned Premier and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith about whether Government intends to move forward with previous announcements to institute consumer protection.
The BVI Leader disclosed that Government began considering consumer protection during the previous administration; and he added that the initiative is still being mulled.
Hon Smith said: “It is something that we actually have begun to think about from the last administration, and it is something that I said to my Ministry that we need to look at. We are now strengthening and deepening the remit of the Trade Department to include some more trade and investment promotions and also their remit will also be to look at the matter of trade in the Territory which includes looking at consumer protection.”
WE THE PEOPLE DEMAND DECISION MAKING POWERS
The people, however, demand that the members of the consumer protection committee be elected by voters and not by government. The committee should be given a wide ranging mandate and powers, not just an advisory role. This is a topic that has been raised many times by editorials of The Island Sun during the last 20 years – results: zero!
In January during a call to the NDP radio program price hikes were used as an illustration by a resident as reasons why Government should introduce consumer protection mechanisms.
The resident during a call to the NDP radio program on 19 January pleaded with legislators to help the poor, who he claimed are suffering from heavy pricing. The caller told the panel that included Premier and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith: “You need to look out for the poor people…We are suffering. The rich people doing good, the poor people suffering. We are suffering.”
In making his point about unfair pricing the resident said: “People are charging what they want. The only people in this island who have a protection on how they charge are the taxi drivers.”
One example used by the caller was fuel prices, which do not usually reflect market oil prices. He mentioned that in cases where the market reports a decrease in oil prices, the pump stations are still charging their normal price: “They are charging too much money for the fuel…When the fuel goes up in the States 10 cents; they will go up 50 cents here. Somebody needs to look into it.”
According to the resident there is no form of price control, and he opined that it is a set your price how you feel sort of industry: “When you go to a garage, they charge you what they want…When you go in the supermarket, the people them charge you what them want. We ain’t got nobody to cry out to…Poor people are suffering in this country; NDP needs to get a consumer affairs protection office to protect the poor people,” he added.
In response Premier Smith stated that the Government is looking into the possibility of establishing a consumer protection agency. The BVI Leader said: “We have been also speaking as a government and the past government of a consumer protection facility, and this is something that again we will be looking at very closely from the Trade and Investment Promotions Department.”
ENOUGH OF PROMISES PROMISES
In 2013, then Governor His Excellency, Boyd McCleary announced that Government will be taking a consumer protection legislation to the House of Assembly during the Speech from the Throne which was delivered on 8 December 2012 – three years ago.
In making the announcement Governor McCleary said: “Madam Speaker my Government will focus on a consumer protection act to provide for: the promotion and protection of the consumer interest in relations to the supply of goods, the provision of services for the protection of life health and safety of consumers and others and for the establishment of a consumer affairs committee.”
His Excellency also stated that the consumer protection act is designed to empower educate and protect consumers by safeguarding them against the sale of defected, unsafe and harmful products as well as the intercepting of unethical practices in the market place. He said: “My government will use public input and feedback to draft the consumer protection legislation.”
An observer commented: “Legislation is fine if it ever comes, but we need a consumer protection committee elected by the PEOPLE and with real powers! No panacea please, we have our law books filled with that.”