Houses passes Consumer Affairs Bill… again

The National Assembly yesterday passed the long-delayed Consumer Affairs Bill, after it emerged from a special select committee without any amendments to the original piece of legislation.

Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad, who chaired the select committee, told the House that two meetings had been held to discuss the bill. Before being sent to select committee, both the PNCR-1G and the AFC had indicated support for the bill.

PNCR-1G MP Mervyn Williams accused the government of being unwilling to take on suggestions made by his party during the discussions on the bill. Williams said that the PNCR-1G wanted the bill to address issues such as the public transportation service, hire purchase operations, and the quality of goods being imported into the country. He said that these were issues that are at the heart of the working class in the country.

Prashad, Williams said, had promised that separate legislation will be brought to the House shortly to address these issues. Williams said that his party will be holding Prashad accountable to the pledges he made to address these issues.

The minister, in response, accused Williams of grandstanding, stating that the matters raised were dealt with at the level of the select committee. “But to tell a PPP/C administration about concerns for the poor is like telling the sun that it must shine,” Prashad said. Speaking about the prices for public transportation, he said that the issue will be addressed by the House and said that the possibility exists that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) may be tasked with monitoring this.

The Bill is based on the 2006 Consumer Protection Bill, which was approved by the Assembly but not assented to by President Bharrat Jagdeo.

The previous legislation lapsed with the dissolution of the last parliament.

The  passage of this bill paves the way for a Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission to be set up to investigate complaints by consumers and enforce the legislation. Consumers will also be afforded the right to return an item within seven days after purchase, but the item must be in its original package and in the same condition; it will be illegal for store owners to display signs saying “Goods not Returnable and or No Refund.”

Since many consumer complaints involve warranties, the Bill says that local suppliers must offer consumers all manufacturers’ warranties without reducing the time given, and if the item does not have  a warranty they will be required to offer consumers six-month warranties.

There is a range of other provisions set out in the Bill, which spell out various rights afforded to consumers. The Bill also covers the entertainment sector and addresses security arrangements and insurances for performers. In addition, false advertising relating to international performers would attract legal penalties.

Meanwhile, during yesterday’s sitting Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud tabled the Protected Areas Bill 2011. The bill addresses the establishment of national protected areas and proposes the setting up of a Protected Areas Commission, which is to be governed by a Board of Directors.

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