New consumer affairs law takes aim at entrenched dishonest business practices

Consumers who have traditionally been victims of unscrupulous business houses that provide commodities of less weight, volume or other form of measurement than advertised can now seek recourse in new regulations contained in the recently promulgated Consumer Affairs Act of 2011.

Under the new legislation “a consumer is entitled to check the weight, volume or other measurement of any goods that the consumer intends to purchase where the price of those goods is determined or materially affected by the measurement. The new regulations also compel business houses to provide “appropriate measuring equipment” for use by customers in cases where goods are sold by reference to their weight, volume or other measurement.

Consumer Affairs Minister Manniram Prashad

It has long been a practice that some local business houses, particularly though not exclusively small grocery stores offer goods that are measured in weight, volume or other measurement and pre-packaged for sale. The practice has, over time, given rise to vigorous consumer advocacy aimed at ensuring that consumers can ascertain the accuracy of the measurements provided by suppliers of goods.

The new regulations, according to the legislation, are intended to ensure that in selling any goods by weight, volume or other measurement, suppliers do not deliver to the consumer a quantity of those goods that is less than that purported to be supplied and corresponding with the price charged.

Under the new legislation business premises will also be required to display current prices which should include “the amount of taxes and related charges separately from the cost of the goods or services.” Not all business affix prices to items offered for sale and since the 2007 introduction of the Value Added Tax some business houses have chosen to display the costs of goods plus VAT together rather than separately.

Meanwhile, the new legislation also pronounces on the requirement that suppliers of goods provide receipts that set out the purchase price and VAT separately, the date on which the purchase was made and a description of the goods sold. While several established business houses have long had their check-out tills reconfigured to furnish receipts containing the information that is now stipulated under the law, some consumers have complained of encountering shops and stores where receipts have either not been forthcoming, or else, are issued without the information contained in the new legislation. Under the new legislation receipts can be used for the purpose of securing refunds.

While a sampling of urban consumers undertaken by this newspaper suggests that few consumers are aware of the provisions of the new legislation, some persons felt that among the more important provisions of the new act were those that pronounced on the obligation of suppliers to accept the return of goods that “fail to provide to the consumer the benefits and uninterrupted enjoyment for which they were intended”. One consumer told this newspaper that if the legislation is enforced it would mean that some business places would have to make significant adjustments to the practice of refusing to exchange defective goods. “That regulation is long overdue. What we have to hope is that we can actually make it work,” she told Stabroek Business.

Another consumer, who gave his name as Troy Somerset said that as someone who has been in the building profession for several years he had encountered numerous cases in which hardware stores had refused to exchange relatively expensive goods despite the fact that there was evidence that the items were defective. “I have actually been told by suppliers that we cannot be responsible for manufacturers’ faults. What about the warranties that they give you?” Somerset said he believed that if the law is effectively applied it would “bring an end to some longstanding dishonest practices in the business community.”

Consumer Affairs Minister Manniram Prashad has undertaken to embark on a public education exercise regarding the new Consumer Affairs Act and some consumers are saying that the process of educating the public should include a major role for the various media houses in Guyana particularly the print media.

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