Commission lacks power to impose penalties under new act

- Consumers Association

A lack of “direct powers” of immediate and effective sanction by the now renamed Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission could impact negatively on the intention to provide a more generous measure of justice to consumers, the real intention behind the Consumer Affairs Act assented to in the National Assembly recently, according to a spokesman for the Guyana Consumers Association (GCA).

While the new legislation contains a number of measures designed to balance what the association says has traditionally been an uneven playing field that has long placed consumers at a disadvantage. Its spokesperson Clifford Zammett told Stabroek Business that the fact that the commission lacks “direct and immediate powers of effective sanction” could in effect result in protracted delays is the dispensation of justice to aggrieved consumers.

Under Part 111 of the enacted legislation titled “investigation of complaints” the commission is empowered to receive from “any person who claims to have been adversely affected in relation to the acquisition of goods and services” a written complaint within two months of the state of the transaction. However, according to Zammett, the commission has no direct authority to impose a penalty for a transgression but must look to the courts to do so.

Industry and Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad

While the new legislation empowers the commission to apply to the courts for compensation, damages and any other remedies, Zammett told Stabroek Business that the GCA was concerned that the process of resorting to the courts rather than empowering the commission to apply on-the-spot solutions, particularly in relatively simple and straightforward cases of consumers being wronged amounts, in effect, to a delay and by extension a denial of justice.

Under the new Consumer Affairs Act, the Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission is empowered to mediate in disagreements between suppliers of goods and/or services to pass its recommendations to the subject minister and to “institute, participate in, on support proceedings before a court… including to bring prosecution where the commission thinks fit.” Additionally, the commission may refuse to undertake or continue investigation into any complaint, if it considers the complaint to be trivial, frivolous; if the complainant fails to make the complaint within the stipulated two-month period following the transaction or if the complainant does not have a sufficient interest in the subject matter of the complaint. The commission may also decline to conduct an investigation into a complaint if it determines that the complaint should be investigated by another body.

Among the key sections of the new legislation are regulations that render illegal the posting of supplier signs stating that goods are not returnable and that no refunds will be given for goods returned; both common practices in the local commercial culture. Additionally, the new legislation pronounces on the circumstances under which a consumer may return goods and seek refunds from the supplier including “if the purpose for which the goods were bought or intended to be used have changed or ceased to exist immediately after the goods were bought” or if “the goods fail to provide to the consumer the benefit and uninterrupted enjoyment for which they were intended.”

Zammett told Stabroek Business that the GCA has noted the public announcement by Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad that government intends to work with consumers, the various private sector bodies and the business communities to ensure a general awareness of the respective rights and obligations under the law. He said the nature and importance of the new legislation renders such an education campaign both necessary and important.

Meanwhile, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Komal Ramnauth told Stabroek Business on Wednesday that the body was studying the new legislation and it would pronounce publicly on the document in a media release in the course of next week.

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