President of the National Consumer Association (NCA) Kingsley St Hill is making another call on government to make the Consumer Protection Bill a priority.
St Hill, in an interview with St Lucia News Online (SNO) today (Apr. 24), said he would like to see the draft bill completed, approved and put into law at the soonest possible time.
“We need to get the ball moving,” he noted, emphasising that the bill is long overdue.
The NCA president said that the length of time taken to have the bill completed is unbelievable, and unless it moves from the desk of Legal Affairs Minister Victor La Corbiniere, it will “remain stagnant” and consumers will be left to suffer a lintier period of time.
He explained that while the NCA has been in constant contact with the Commerce Ministry, there is no clear indication on the possible passage of the bill in the House of Assembly.
He indicated that his association has done “almost everything” possible in advocating for the bill to be passed in parliament.
The consumer rights activist recalled that in 2012 some concerns raised by the association were not incorporated into the draft bill. However, he said recommendations by the Chamber of Commerce were considered.
He claimed that two years ago Minister La Corbiniere promised that the draft bill would have gone to Cabinet between October and November of 2012, in a meeting between himself, NCA executives and Acting Director of Consumer Affairs Mary Isaac.
“As a government auditor, I know how bills are passed and laws are amended. I am more interested in the consumer rights. Once that is in place, any little deviation or concerns we have we can always take it up. Once it gets to parliament, it will be read and we can hear the reading and make amendments.”
St Hill pointed out that the Civil Court makes provisions for people to seek redress for breaches, but he said “ordinary people” do not have that privilege and the cases would usually fall by the wayside.
However, the NCA had expressed concern indicating it should be possible for consumers who cannot afford legal fees to be represented. The main concern, St Hill explained, is protecting the rights of consumers. The NCA he added is following the example of John F Kennedy and other countries that has proper legislation in place to promote consumer rights which includes: Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and India. He also highlighted the need for St Lucia to learn from sister Caricom countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago that all have consumer protection act in place.
“As a practicing catholic Christian, I am still praying that in the interest of poor and marginalised consumers in Saint Lucia, that the minister, the prime minister, the government would come to reason and understand why consumer protection in Saint Lucia is for the benefit of the small man,” he lamented.
The Consumer Protection Bill was not included in discussions of a recent sitting of the House of Assembly.
The bill contains the rights promulgated in the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection.
St Hill has warned that without these rights enshrined in the law, consumers are at the mercy of unscrupulous merchants and service providers.
Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte has said that while she is committed to the enactment of the bill, the proposed legislation has yet to reach the Cabinet of Ministers. Hippolyte has also publicly admitted that consumers have had a long wait, but she is hopeful that it could end soon.