The Consumer Affairs Unit – In pursuit of a balance of fairness amongst consumers and businesses

Ministry of Business Column

The Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission (CCAC) was established in 2006 and became fully operational in 2010. The Commission is the sole statutory agency charged with enforcing of the Competition and Fair Trading Act No.11 of 2006 (CFTA) and the Consumer Affairs Act No.13 of 2011 (CAA). The Commission is separated into two main facets, the adjudicative and the investigative.

The adjudicative comprises the Board of Commissioners, while the investigative consists of two primary Units the Com-petition Policy Unit and the Consumer Affairs Unit, inclusive of support staff. The foremost goal is to ensure the effective, efficient and objective administering of the CFTA and the CAA. The work of the Consumer Affairs Unit is complemented by the Consumer Affairs Division of the Ministry of Business which focuses primarily on consumer education.

This article focuses on the establishment of the Consumer Affairs Unit (CAU), its role and strides thus far, with emphasis on its achievements for the year 2017. The Unit’s two main objectives are to enforce the CAA and to empower consumers through consumer awareness programmes focused on rights and responsibilities provided under the Act. The Unit is also continuously engaged in educating the business community of its legal responsibility of adherence and the importance of compliance with respect to the CAA.

The CAU in its aim to prevent any impact that can reduce consumer welfare is guided by procedures that are applied with stringency in objectively determining either:

1) that an enterprise has breached the CAA; or

2) that a consumer has been negligent.

 In order to objectively execute the former and latter, a process of taking consumer complaints and investigating is executed. The results of an investigation determine the method of resolution which must fall within the ambit of the Consumer Affairs Act. Coupled with the thrust of efficient redress, educational programmes are being implemented targeting different groups of society. This is a pertinent role since in order to change the culture of consumerism, people must be aware and have an appreciation for their rights and responsibilities as consumers.

 The CAA’s legal mandate extends only to durable goods and services. The following provides a synopsis of the work of the Consumer Affairs Unit for the year 2017 with a brief comparative analysis of 2016.  For the period January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017, the CAU handled a total of 236 consumer complaints with an accumulated value of $122,782,719.39.  A total of (198) cases (84%) were resolved as at the end of the reviewed fiscal year. 

In an examination of the years 2016 and 2017, the leading category of complaints received in 2016 were against the auto industry, closely followed by electronics, electrical appliances and services. In 2017 there was a decline in complaints against the auto industry and electronics took the lead. With regard to the auto industry, imported used cars attracted the largest number of complaints in both years. The volume of complaints raised concern about the business practices of auto dealers, particularly in the areas of financing agreements and after-sale guarantees. The former prompted the unit to conduct seminars in 2016 and 2017 in pursuit of stemming the tide of complaints. The plan is to bring greater regularity to the industry, and this will be executed in collaboration with the Guyana National Bureau of Standards and the Guyana Revenue Authority.  The regularization of the industry will ensure that products meet stipulated standards and that services provided conform to best practices and are consistent with the CAA. 

 The sale of defective electronic devices has also seen a comparatively high percentage of complaints. The effects of increased demand and the reality of the interplay of a global economy have resulted in the mass production of sub-standard products targeting poorer developing countries. To Guyana’s disadvantage, this has resulted in the infiltration of these products into our local markets. The argument posited by most suppliers is that the goods imported are aligned with consumers’ spending power. The Commission’s response has been equally clear and consistent. Notwithstanding the level of disposable income available to the majority of consumers, suppliers have a legal responsibility in accordance with the CAA to provide goods and services that are of satisfactory quality. Because of the influx of complaints in specific sectors, there are scheduled consultations, business inspections and planned advocacy campaigns being executed in 2018 and onward. It is these measures that are expected to create a strong impact in the years ahead.

In conclusion, businesses should be cognizant that consumers are the lifeblood of their existence. Increased compliance by businesses has a positive relationship with increased consumer confidence, successful redress, honouring of warranties and quality products received. In order to achieve real growth and development the consumer market cannot be consistently disenfranchised by the producer and retailer markets. This would leave the market devoid of effective levels of production, quality imports and efficient services. The CAU in effecting its mandate recognizes that collaborating with similarly focused agencies and stakeholders is an imperative for achieving sustainable socio-economic development. However, where the latter is concerned, the Commission is unwavering in its belief that the primary objective of businesses i.e. maximizing profits can only be achieved through responsible business practices such as compliance and adherence to the CAA. Simply put the cliché “value for money” must become a permanent reality for Guyanese consumers.

Dominic Gaskin, MP

Minister of Business