A law to provide for the protection and promotion of consumer interest was passed in Parliament on Friday, with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sir Louis Straker, the mover of the bill, saying that, among other things, it will protect against the pricing scheme used by funeral homes.
In presenting the various parts of Consumer Protection Bill (2020) to lawmakers, Sir Louis said that it places a limited responsibility on suppliers to display a price in relation to the goods or services.
“So that when you go into a barber shop or salon, there should be a price list that is set up there so you can see what is the price, and this should be particularly so to funeral homes,” Sir Louis said.
He said that this element of the law will also refer to funeral homes.
“You know it is a common practice here that when your loved ones pass away, you go and inquire. Well, if they know you have relatives abroad, they charge one price. If they know you are poor, they may charge another price, but you do not see a price on the casket to know you can go shopping and you’re not given a price list so that you can know for the lowering device, this is the cost; for the programmes, this is the cost,” said Sir Louis, who is also deputy prime minister.
“This act would provide that funeral homes bring themselves up to date in a professional way. So that when you go to a funeral home, even before they pick up your body at the hospital, the morgue, you should be given a list as to what they charge, you can get one from this funeral home, one from the other funeral home and you should be able to compare and make a decision.
“Because at time of grief, you go to a funeral home sometimes they grab the body already. And when you go there, you can’t make a choice as to what you have. You just have to take whatever price they put on you,” he said.
Sir Louis said that the new law aims to provide for the promotion and protection of consumer interest in relation to the supply of goods and services, to ensure protection of life, health and safety of consumers and to provide for the establishment of a department responsible for consumer affairs and other connected purposes.
“Happy am I to be able to present, at long last, this consumer protection bill 2020,” Sir Louis said, adding that the legislation is significant.
“It is revolutionary in its scope of consumer rights and could fitly be described as the magna carta of consumer rights in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He said that previous attempts to enact legislation on consumer rights had failed for various reasons to become the law of the land.
“I was advised that there was a consumer protection bill that was passed in this Parliament in 1992 but was never proclaimed and so never became law.”
He said there was another attempt and there were consultations, advertisements, discussions, but it never came to Parliament.
He said that in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Grenada revised its consumer protection law the previous week to include tribunal costs, etc., and St. Lucia has a law that it is seeking to amend; Antigua is going through consultations, as are Dominica and St. Kitts.
“And now we have our bill coming before parliament,” Sir Louis said.
He said that the law sets out a framework that consolidates, in one place, key consumer protection rights, exercisable in relation to the supply of good and services.
The law also establishes the duties and obligations of suppliers and establishes administrative and legal frameworks for the identification of violations involving the supply of goods and services, the physical and financial security of consumers, unfair trade practices and transactions and unfair contract terms.
“Where violations have been identified, the bill also makes provisions for consumers and suppliers to be heard, for consumer redress and for suppliers defence where appropriate,” Sir Louis said.
He said that while the pre-existing Consumer Affairs Department continues to perform a function “admirably”, the lack of the appropriate legislation restricts greatly its ability to investigate possible infringements against the rights of consumers.
“There remains great difficulty in ensuring that goods and services are safe for consumption, provision of truthful and sufficient information to make informed decision on goods and services, the supply of goods and provision of services are appended with an adequate and fair system of redress, businesses in the supply of goods and services adhere to a modus operandi that encourages fairness and promotes consumer confidence, and effective policing and advocating of consumer goods.”
Sir Louis said that the purpose of the new law is “to promote and advance the social and economic welfare of consumers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”