Message by Sen. Hon. Ubaldus Raymond - WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY 2012
Parliamentary Secretary, Senator, Hon. Ubaldus Raymond, Ph.D.
Ministry of Commerce, Business Development, Investment and Consumer Affairs
WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY 2012
It is a great pleasure to be here on this important day, to join the International Consumer Movement, in celebrating World Consumer Rights Day, which is observed on the 15th of March every year. Why March 15th every year?, because, it is on this day in 1963, that John F. Kennedy, then President of the United States of America conveyed a message to the US Congress where he formally addressed the issue of Consumer Rights. He was the first global leader to do so, when he informed congress that consumer interest should be protected by the Federal Government and he stated that: “ The Federal Government – by nature the highest spokesman for all the people – has a special obligation to be alert to the consumer’s needs and to advance the consumer’s interests.” The world has continued from then on to attempt to address Consumers Rights, Consumer Protection, Consumer Policy and Consumer Legislation. International and Regional Agreements require that we move to protect consumers, but most importantly, as leaders, we must ensure that our nation’s economy, fairly and adequately serve consumers’ interests. For Consumer Rights are Human Rights, and as President Kennedy rightly put it:
“If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers.”
As Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for Consumer Affairs, I will ensure that the Consumer Protection Bill is given the attention that it deserves and will make every effort to cut down on the red tape surrounding the development and implementation of Consumer Legislation and Consumer Policy, for the protection of our single national economy of a mere 160,000 people.
The Government of St. Lucia, as consumers themselves, is aware of the concerns consumers are faced with, and will make every effort to ensure that policies are implemented to facilitate fair trade in the marketplace. The Ministry of Commerce, Business Development, Investment and Consumer Affairs, is in the process of finalizing the draft Consumer Protection Bill, so that it can be taken to the other two stages; firstly, to Cabinet for approval, and then to Parliament for enactment.
The Ministry has now re-submitted its comments to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration on the Consumer Protection Bill and we shall also take into account the new provisions in the CARICOM Model Bill in order to ensure that the final product harmonizes with Consumer Protection Legislation in other CARICOM Member states.
I am also pleased to inform you that this new Bill contains provisions that will seek to address some of the concerns consumers have expressed with the financial services and other critical sectors.
There are provisions in the Bill dealing with Terms of Consumer Agreements with a view to addressing unfair contract terms. Provisions have also been made to address unfair practices particularly matters relating to false, misleading, or deceptive representation; matters geared towards misleading the public about goods and services; unreasonable transactions; unfair or unjust transactions; and unconscionable representation. These provisions are expected to address the concerns of consumers in the above areas.
At the regional level, consultations have been held on the CARICOM Model Consumer Protection Bill and there is a draft of the model regional legislation, which will form the basis for harmonized consumer legislation in the region.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Minister of Commerce Hon. Phillip J Pierre, who worked tirelessly with the staff of the Ministry of Commerce to establish the Department of Consumer Affairs, and push the Consumer Protection Agenda, under my Labour Party Administration in 1998. Establishing the Department was the first Cornerstone and the turning point for consumers in St. Lucia. Then came the establishment of the National Consumers Association, who is celebrating its 10th Anniversary, after it was launched on this day, in 2002. Let me reiterate that, it is not by chance that we have the National Consumers Association as an independent consumer voice in St. Lucia, but rather, this vision stemmed from the provisions obtained in Chapter Eight of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramus, which mandates Member States to encourage the development of independent Consumer Groups, whose role it is to advocate on behalf of consumers.
The NCA has an indispensable responsibility to ensure that consumer interests and welfare is promoted and protected. The NCA is in fact the custodian of consumers and has a role to perform in ensuring that Government interventions in a number of areas and the actions of private and corporate citizens are in the public and consumer interests.
During the past few years, consumers worldwide have been confronted with a myriad of issues, which demanded a strong voice at all levels, be it National, Regional, and International to advocate on their behalf. Issues of International Trade, Regional and International Agreements, call for consumer interests to be guarded; and in recent times, the food, fuel and financial crises raised their ugly heads and unleashed tremendous challenges on consumers and the consumer movement in general. This year’s theme for World Consumer Rights Day is very appropriate: ACTION ON MONEY TRANSFERES- Campaigning to cut the cost of sending money abroad. The theme focuses on consumer related financial issues, some of which currently plague small islands such as ours. We have many parents who work overseas and send money to their children here in St. Lucia. The costs for transferring those funds are exorbitant, causing additional stress on the family purse. The financial crisis was more destructive and debilitating as it led to job losses and other hardships to consumers. Further, a number of consumers were left stranded as they were unable to draw down on their pension savings and other benefits, since a number of the big companies in the financial services sector went under. The collapse of the giants on Wall Street also created shipwreck in the insurance sector in this region as a number of well established insurance companies were shaken to the core and many depended on Governments for a financial bail-out.
While the corporate giants have received bail outs from a number of Governments in a number of jurisdictions, consumers who suffered as a result have received little or no assistance whatsoever. That is why John F. Kennedy, former United States President was right when he stated that consumers were the largest economic group whose voices are hardly ever heard. For these reasons, organizations such as the NCA are critical to represent the voice of the consumer.
We have progressed, but, we have to continue to progress until we are satisfied that the importance of the consumer is well recognized by all stakeholders in the marketplace. It was Ghandi who so rightly put it, when he said;
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work - he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to serve him.”
Consumer protection becomes even more of a necessity as we continue to make significant strides to dismantle trade barriers and increase efficiency in the marketplace, as a conscious consuming public serves to improve standards and promote sustainable lifestyles. It calls for businesses to have greater social responsibility and account for the provision of quality goods and services. The Eight Consumer Rights annunciated by President Kennedy also call for Consumer Responsibilities. With the Advent of increases in technology, those responsibilities have become tenfold and have increased the difficulties for consumers along with the opportunities that they present since they were proclaimed. The issues presented by cross boarder and online shopping, E-Commerce and the introduction of other technological innovations, demands greater government interventions to ensure that consumers are protected and have ready access to information.
In conclusion, all consumers have the same rights and we must continue to work hard to ensure that the benefits from consumer protection redound to our national economy. We all have a stake in the establishment of consumer policy and legislation and we must play our role in ensuring that all consumers, as well as businesses, are aware of the consumers rights and obligations. The journey may be a long one, and there are still challenges we will have to face, however, I believe that it will take the collective effort of government, consumer advocates, and the business community, to have an integrated market place where consumer protection is the norm. Legislation, policy, rules and regulation in isolation do not protect consumers; it is the human rights and free movement of people that produce a democracy. This government is committed to ensuring that your democratic rights, your human rights, including your consumer rights, remain at the top of the agenda at all times.
I THANK YOU.
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