The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Protection, organised a workshop on the proposed Consumer Protection Bill 2013 on Friday 15 March 2013, at La Canelle, Domaine Les Pailles. The holding of this seminar marks the beginning of a series of activities that the Ministry is organising this year to celebrate the World Consumer Rights Day.
According to Minister Cader Sayed-Hossen, who opened the workshop, the objective of the workshop is three-fold within the consultative process engaged between his Ministry and the major stakeholders in attendance. “The first objective is to share with you the salient features of the proposed draft Consumer Protection Bill 2013; secondly, to brainstorm together on the proposals made in all fairness, transparency and objectivity; and thirdly, and most importantly, to take on board all valid suggestions made by you and to obtain your agreement and validation of the proposed Consumer Protection Bill before I introduce same in the National Assembly this year”, the minister said.
For the minister, the new Consumer Protection Regime as proposed in the draft Consumer Protection Bill 2013 “puts the consumer first” and aims essentially at promoting and advancing the social and economic welfare of consumers. The revised legal framework will also lay down the foundation for the achievement and maintenance of a consumer market that is accessible, fair, efficient, responsible and sustainable for the benefit of consumers at large. It equally contains adequate safeguards to consumers against unscrupulous traders.
Moreover, the Minister underlined that the need to review the current Consumer Protection Legislation and to come up with a new consumer protection regime has been on the agenda of his Ministry for quite some time now. “A complete revamping of the present Consumer Protection Act has become inevitable in view of the ever changing and unpredictable environment in which we have to strive actually”, Cader Sayed-Hossen stressed. The existing legislation which dates back to 1991 has gone through its life-cycle. Accordingly, it has become evident that it would be more appropriate and practical to put up a new Bill altogether rather than bringing numerous amendments to the current Act.
Government, in its 2010-2015 Programme, announced that ”an in-depth and complete review of all legislations governing consumer protections and rights will be carried out with a view to bringing them in line with the new business environment prevailing and to make them readily understandable and accessible to the population”. It is against this backdrop that, in 2010, Government requested the Law Reform Commission to submit proposals for a completely new Consumer Protection Bill. The Law Reform Commission has carried out a significant review of the existing consumer protection laws and has subsequently made proposals for reform.
The works were effected from a comparative and international perspective. Best practices from different jurisdictions such as India, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia as well as the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection have been used and these have been instrumental in the proposals made. The Law Reform Commission has confirmed that the present Consumer Protection Laws contain a number of shortcomings and are inadequate to respond to the growing exigencies and challenges of both the market and the consumer.
Revamping of Consumer Protection Unit
Furthermore, Minister Sayed-Hossen stated that during his recent official visit to India in January this year, a request has been made to the Indian Authorities for technical assistance for the re-engineering of the Consumer Protection Unit of his Ministry. Another request has been made to renew a Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments relating to consumer protection issues. In the same vein, some proposals regarding the restructuring of the Consumer Protection Unit have been made to the Anomalies Committee on the 2012 PRB Report chaired by Mr. Dev Manraj. The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Protection is also looking at the overall uplifting of the physical work environment in which its officers are performing. The aim is to create the necessary environment and mindset so that the Ministry’s officers give the best of themselves.
In a nutshell, the new Consumer Protection Bill will provide for:
(i) Consumer Rights, including the freedom to associate and form groups to advocate their common interests;
(ii) Standards of Consumer Information so as to ensure that consumers are sufficiently informed;
(iii) Consumer guarantees in respect of supply of goods/services;
(iv) The protection of consumers from hasards to their well-being and safety, and product liability;
(v) The prohibition of unfair terms in consumer contracts;
(vi) The establishment of a National Consumer Council, which would encourage consumer participation in decision-making processes concerning the marketplace an consumer interests;
(vii) An effective enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements.
Highlighting Consumer Rights
Celebrations of the World Consumer Day were launched at the Farmers Service Centre, Goodlands, on Saturday 16 March 2013. There will also be four Road Shows, with the first one held on 15 March 2013 at the Goodlands Farmers Centre to mark the World Consumers Rights Day comprising exhibitions, sales of products at promotional price and creating awareness on the various types of services being provided to the public.