Righting the wrongs

One of the most inexplicable things in this country is that regardless of how often or how long power outages are, there is never a commensurate reduction in one’s electricity bill. And regardless of how terrible the service is, the average consumer is forced to endure it. The options are to progress to self-generation by investing in a generator or a solar power system, both of which require significant upfront costs, or regress to flambeaux and candles, which can provide muted light, but no power.

In a letter to this newspaper, published on March 13, regular contributor GHK Lall refers to his ‘price watch’ and shared that the cost of cooking gas had increased by $200 and $100 per cylinder depending on where one purchased it. He also stated that the price per bag of chickpeas had inflated by more than $4,000. There is no real reason, none publicized anyway, as to why the prices for these items had suddenly gone up. What is the consumer to do? While one is not advocating price controls, surely sellers should not be raising prices without due cause. And when there is good reason to raise prices, should consumers not be warned?

A number of the letters to this newspaper come from disgruntled and harried consumers who very often would have tried to have their grievances addressed by the relevant company/authority. They write letters for publication after being frustrated at every turn, either by an implacable employee or business owner, by phone calls and complaints that go unanswered, or by promises of provisions of service which are not kept.

From March 1 to 13, letters of complaint from consumers to this publication came in protest at varying issues affecting them. Nikhil Sankar’s letter, published on March 1, referred to the Value Added Tax that private education now attracts, which places a strain on the average consumer of that service. The veracity and audacity of the government’s response to this issue has already been addressed in these columns, so suffice it to say that for as long as it remains on the books, it is the ordinary penny-pincher who will feel the squeeze. This is a reality government is either too blind to see or too callous to accept.

Published on March 6, a letter from Sahadeo Bates complained that some 11 children from the Uitvlugt Secondary School had been rushed to the hospital with food poisoning symptoms and it had been discovered that they had all purchased food items from a vendor selling outside their school.  Of course, there is the issue of caveat emptor, but any vendor who sells food to children that is not of the highest standard should be made to feel the full brunt of the law. One wonders whether the relevant government authority bothered to investigate.

In his missive published on March 9, letter writer Rev Gideon Cecil detailed the trials he endured after he lost internet service and attempted to contact his DSL service provider GTT to have it addressed. The interruption in service occurred on March 4, and had affected many consumers, including this newspaper. Persons whose work depended on the internet service would have lost significant man hours. Several consumers were upset at not having been provided with the information beforehand that GTT was doing upgrading works, although the company said it had made announcements on the radio.

On March 11, a letter from Mohamed Khan complained about the service being provided to the Essequibo Coast by GTT since the launch of its 4G facility there was not matching the hype. This is yet another instance where consumers have to grin and bear it because there is no alternative.

Yesterday, according to a press release issued by the Government Information Agency (GINA), Guyana joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Consumer Rights Day, under the theme ‘Building a Digital World Consumers can Trust’. It quoted Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) Public Relations Officer Lloyd David as stating that Guyana should salute consumer bodies for their efforts in protecting consumer rights.

While this column will not attempt to deny that significant strides have been made as regards consumer protection, cause for salute is a long way away. Apart from the letters highlighted above, there is endless anecdotal evidence everywhere about consumers’ rights being trampled upon; one only needs to listen to the man in the street.

Consumers’ rights include being protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life; protection against dishonest or misleading advertising or labelling and being given the facts and information needed to make an informed choice. They also include the right to choose from among various products at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality; the right to express consumer interests in the making and execution of government policies and the right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services among others.

No doubt, from the information provided to GINA by the GNBS, some of these things are being addressed in theory. However, there is a lack of enforcement; hence some vendors still illegally alter expiration dates and then sell the products to consumers. Then there are others who insist that their stores have a ‘no return’ policy in clear contravention of the law and continue to do so with impunity. It is not enough to trot out messages and statistics every year around this time. There is much more that needs to be done to right the wrongs consumers are faced with on a daily basis.

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