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EDITORIAL: Consumer voice too long missing


EDITORIAL: Consumer voice too long missing

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The raging public debate about recent eyebrow-raising actions involving Cable & Wireless (LIME) and CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank has highlighted clear deficiencies in our system of governance. In all the discussions there has been the absence of the voice of a strong consumer body.

The plans by LIME to charge customers who want to continue receiving printed bills and the move by CIBC FirstCaribbean to change contractual arrangements may be good business decisions. But for the thousands of customers already facing a host of impositions and penalties, these measures are simply another burden.

The quick public response by the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) to both LIME and CIBC FirstCaribbean must be applauded since it shows the regulator is alert to public sentiments. Hopefully, the Central Bank of Barbados, another regulator, is also investigating the matter of the proposed bank changes.

However, the reality is that there is a clear difference between the role of the regulators and that of consumer rights organisations. The FTC and the Central Bank are the mediating voices which seek to ensure the right balance and a middle road; while a consumer organisation’s primary interest must be the total welfare of all citizens. This credible voice of the people has clearly been missing in Barbados for too long and is very evident in the current dialogue.

The articulate and insightful contributions from a few individuals are most welcome. But they bring neither the weight nor collective position that would make either LIME or CIBC FirstCaribbean want to adopt a much more cautious approach when considering issues that will impact on their customers.

While both companies will pay attention to the comments and opinions of the public made via the talk shows, television discussions and media commentaries, the pressure is not there; neither is there any legal obligation. This is where a strong consumer lobby – representing mass interests – would have been able to demand engagement with both businesses.

In the circumstances, the public’s interest will have to be defended by the political directorate on behalf of all Barbados. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart himself must address consumers’ concerns during any meetings he may have with the leadership of these businesses.  

Specific to Cable & Wireless, he must seek to find out whether the planned buyout of Columbus International Inc. means efforts at market domination and becoming a monopoly, whether the heavy capital investment promised will still be undertaken and if there will be any big job losses. Matters relating to service delivery, pricing and innovation must also be put on the table.

Mr Stuart must understand that some customers of both businesses are in a state of total confusion. They need someone to both explain what is happening and defend their interests.