Walter has stressed the importance of consumer protection

Walter has stressed the importance of consumer protection

In short order, the absence of Consumer Protection Legislation in Dominica will be a thing of the past, Director of Trade Matthan Walter has said.

Late last week experts from the CARICOM Secretariat and stakeholders from the Private sector engaged for a one day consultation on the Consumer Protection Bill of 2015 at the Garraway Hotel.

According to Walter the absence of such legislation has its downside.

“The lack of Consumer Protection Legislation has its ill effects; this needs to be corrected and exigently so,” he said at the opening of the consultation. “In the absence of the required legislation this Ministry has been challenged with complaints ranging from warranties, substandard goods, false/misleading advertisements and non-refunds on returnable items.”

He continued, “Nevertheless, a new era is being born and in the short-term the landscape for consumer protection will be changed by the enactment of the Consumer Protection Bill into law. This Bill at this stage is very comprehensive and appears, de jure, to house provisions tailored to suit and address almost every possibility and eventuality.”

Some of the areas that the Bill will address include: the establishment of a Consumer Affairs Commission, Consumer Rights, Duties of Suppliers, Unfair Trading Practices, Consumer Safety, Recall of Goods, and Distance Selling, the establishment of a Rapid Alert System and Consumer Agreements, among others.

“The signs that are placed on business places with the words, “No Refund” may soon be a thing of the past,” Walter stated.

The journey to this Bill began before 2008 with a CARICOM-harmonized Draft Bill, which has over the years been tweaked, amended and brackets removed to ensure that the end product is a refined one that, he explained, would allow for ownership by both the Private and Public sector.

“Our thrust as a member state of CARICOM to respect our obligations under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the provisions of services and most paramount to ensure protection of life, health and safety of consumers has led us to this moment,” he noted.

Walter mentioned further that in the interim for establishing the legal framework for consumer protection bill, the Division of Trade was divided into Units with one of those Units’ tasked with the job of overseeing the realization of a secure and robust Consumer Protection Framework and regime on the island.

He took the opportunity to thank the business places who were approached to remedy or redress complaints lodged by aggrieved consumers, and because of this they have been “very successful” in redressing these complaints.

Walter noted that the ground work for the establishment of a Consumer NGO to champion the rights of consumers is underway.

The forum was geared at, not only for allowing the private sector an opportunity to more intimately understand the provisions of the draft Consumer Protection Bill, but to enable a more vivid understanding of the underlying policy.

Meantime the Senior Legal Officer, Drafting from the CARICOM Secretariat, Melanie Ffrench congratulated Dominica on behalf of the CARICOM Secretariat for their “proactive approach” to consumer protection.

She said they will take away the inputs from the stakeholders as they have done in the other CARICOM member states to produce the best Bill possible that suits the needs of the consumers and also recognizes the responsibilities that are owed to the consumer by suppliers.

Next the bill will be forwarded with specific recommendations to the Dominica Manufacturers Association (DMA), the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce (DAIC), among others, for one month to discuss and submit a comprehensive response to the Ministry of Trade.

Following this the draft bill will be placed on the Government’s website for the wider public’s feedback.

A series of town hall meetings will also take place.

“We will try to ensure that prior to this bill arriving on the doorsteps of cabinet, or in parliament, that the public will be fully sensitized and we would have engaged as many comments as possible and also benefit from the finalization of the CARICOM model right here in the Commonwealth of Dominica,” Walter said.