EDITORIAL: Need for strong consumer protection
IF THERE IS one common denominator among all Barbadians, it is the high level of frustration and complaints about the lack of consumer protection.
The poor delivery of goods and service is persistent in both the public and private sectors and that situation demands that this country have an effective apolitical consumer rights organisation – perhaps even more than one.
Attempts have been made for many years to set up consumer rights associations, and there has always been a lot of talk of the necessity for strong advocacy on behalf of consumers. The failure rate of these groupings has been very high as they have always lacked widespread public support.
The Barbados Consumers Research Organisation Inc. is perhaps the best known of the consumer groupings in Barbados today. But even years after its establishment it remains a fledging association which is identified with one man – Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt. It simply has not resonated with the Barbadian public.
The Fair Trading Commission (FTC), which is the regulator in this market, may serve consumers in various ways – it can listen to and discuss concerns and complaints.
The public perception is that it is slow to deal with some issues and must follow certain institutional procedures. The FTC simply cannot behave like and perform the role of a consumers’ rights body.
When the public cried out against the Barbados Light & Power following what was felt to be excessive fuel adjustment charges and about the service of the telecommunications providers, the FTC’s response had to be guarded.
This is not how a consumer watchdog would have reacted in those circumstances.
Consumers’ issues touch every facet of life ranging from ensuring the financial markets work better for them in a transparent, reliable, and fair manner, to demanding better from those in health and safety.
They are concerns in the auto industry as with statutory corporations and central Government. Customers’ want satisfaction as well as greater transparency and accountability.
Today is world Consumer Rights Day, and while we can surmise what may have gone wrong in the failure to have a strong consumer protection body in Barbados, the fundamental point is that this country needs one.
It must come without any baggage, especially political or business ties. It must be fearless in the pursuit of justice and fair play and be prepared to take on the powerful and influential – whether in the public sector or those in industry and commerce.
Those willing to take the lead must be prepared for the criticism which will be levelled at them, but they must have a vision and the passion to stand up against the many wrongs done in this society often against the voiceless and those whose cause needs to be defended. This situation is not for the faint-hearted; neither is it about seeking glory.