Following an insightful debate on 23 July the long awaited Consumer Protection Bill had its second reading and was referred to a Select Committee of the House of Assembly to peruse it clause by clause and make further amendments.
The referral of the Bill to a special committee of the House of Assembly was done based on a suggestion by Junior Minister for Trade and Investment Hon. Sharie de Castro. The Junior Minister in asking for the legislation to be referred noted that this was the best option since a number of good points that should be considered were raised during the debate of the Bill.
“As the person championing this Bill I strongly suggest that we exercise section 55 of the Standing Orders and go into a select committee of the House with a five member body — three from the Government’s side and two from the Opposition. The reason for this is because we are a government of inclusion and as our Premier always says a good idea is a good idea no matter who brings it. Both sides have come with some good ideas for this Bill and rather than wasting the time at this forum I think it is best that we do it in a select committee of the House so that they can bring back their findings,” the Junior Minister said.
The Bill was seconded by Leader of the Opposition Hon. Penn who Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie has credited for the completion of the legislation. In his contribution to the debate Hon. Penn told the House of Assembly: “Government, Opposition we all know the importance of this legislation not just for the protection of our consumer, but it also gives our businesses a framework of which to work within.”
The fact that the Bill was promised since 1995 was alluded to Premier Hon. Fahie during the presentation of the objects and reasons of the Bill. In stating that he was happy that the legislation was finally before the House the Premier said: “I am also a consumer and all of us Mr. Speaker are consumers at one point or time.” The Premier extended credit to the former administration for the Bill which he said worked on the legislation: “The Bill started under the previous administration. Most of the Acts of the provision contained in the NDP’s version of the Bill.”
The Premier suggested that there was perhaps a deliberate attempt to keep the Bill from passing. In alluding to this notion, Hon. Fahie said: “…as hard as those lobbied and as hard as the population begged for consumer protection the former government seemed to be locked in the grasp of forces that can not be seen with the naked eyes.”
Hon. Fahie announced that the failure of government to introduce Consumer Protection legislation resulted in certain unscrupulous business persons: “Even during their most vulnerable days of their lives, during the devastation that followed hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 there are reports of certain businesses hoarded goods and engaged in price gouging. The prices for items that were essential to survive like food, water, cleaning supplies, candles and matches were hiked on a desperate population,” he said.
“When these acts of inhumanity were exposed Mr. Speaker they began to pile excuses on top of excuses finger pointing and blame games. It is no secret that many citizens felt that the reason consumer protection did not [pass]was because of conflict of interest. A case of the fox standing guard at the hen house. You can doubt them, you can shout at them Mr. Speaker but they know the reality they lived through,” he added.
The mention that a possible conflict of interest was the reason why the Bill was never passed was not taken well by Fourth District Representative Hon. Mark Vanterpool who rebutted this point during his contribution to the debate.
Hon. Vanterpool announced: “I would not stoop so low as to try to refute the statement by the Premier suggesting that a conflict of interest by persons like myself perhaps because I can’t think of persons of who he may be speaking of. [That] because of conflict of interest it never came to the House. I would like to encourage him to let him know that that is not the case that all of us supported the Bill and looked forward to it going through the House as smoothly as possible.”
“Any Bill that comes forward of this size and this nature, it would have revisions, from time to time…that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get the Bill passed, get it in place and in its best form. I am glad that it has reached to this level and it will have my full support I will lend whatever I can in the Committee stage from business experience point of view as best as I can and as a consumer,” the Fourth District Representative added.