PHILIPSBURG–The draft competition law, which will include steps for consumer protection, is slated for completion in April and will begin the rounds in the various advisory bodies before ending up on the floor of Parliament.
Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Irania Arrindell shared the progress of the draft law with Members of Parliament (MPs) in a plenary session called to discuss the progress on consumer protection mechanism for residents and visitors on Tuesday afternoon in Parliament House. The session was called by MPs Leona Marlin-Romeo (Independent), Franklin Meyers and Theo Heyliger of United People’s (UP) party.
Arrindell told MPs, “Little attention” has been placed on consumer protection and service in the past. This attention deficit has also been contributed to by a “lack of effective control.” The draft law will tackle all of these aspects of neglect faced by shoppers who live in the country or those who are visiting. The draft law aims “to re-establish confidence and move the economy” of the country.
The draft law picks up from where the project on development of the consumer protection act, headed by St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Small Business Development Foundation (SBDF), left off. The Department of Economic Affairs filled the gap and a Dutch company was hired for 27,000 euros to draft the law.
The draft law will seek to hold all businesses to the same standards and focus on “breaking cartels” and “ending the abuse” faced by consumers.
The competition authority will be “independent regulatory body” and will be the entity to which companies that want to acquire another company or merge with another will have to register their intent.
In the short term, the Ministry intends to carry out a campaign to inform the public about their rights and ways to protest injustices, set up a consumer help desk in the Economic Controllers Department, and seek Government approval for the enforcement policy that will allow controllers to carry out specific consumer protection-related tasks.
Arrindell said that in the long term her Ministry plans to get the draft law to Parliament and with its adoption establish the “long overdue and much needed” consumer protection authority that has its roots in that legislation. The Ministry will “reallocate” funds to establish the protection authority and fund its initial operations.
That consumer protection authority will concern itself with tackling inaccurate advertisement content, the fine print of warranties, the proof of purchase, removal of defective merchandise, and ensuring no products carry labels in a “foreign language.” Arrindell explained that labels must be in any official language of the country – Dutch or English.
Defaulting businesses will first be issued with a verbal warning by the controller followed by a written warning if the situation is not improved. The third step will be the issuance of the fine levied by the Prosecutor’s Office or the Court of First Instance. Ultimately, a defaulting business can be closed down by ministerial order and finally for the really defaulting cases, the business licence/permits can be revoked.
MP Marlin-Romeo queried based on Arrindell’s presentation why a complainant would have to go to the Chamber of Commerce for an extract of the business registration and get their own registration extract from the Civil Registry Department. The complainant, at present, can only fight consumer complaint via the court. The MP called for it to become mandatory for businesses to have their tax registration – CRIB number, and their Chamber of Commerce number printed on their receipt.
MP Cornelius de Weever (Independent) asked the Minister for an update on the progress of the Timeshare Protection law that aims to protect buyers.
MP Tamara Leonard (UP) inquired about the availability of trained personnel to tackle consumer complaints and if none exist, if the Ministry has a plan to train personnel. With the requirement of going to the Chamber and the Civil Registry, Leonard asked how complaints from overseas will be dealt with as many times shoppers with complaints were visitors to the country.
National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet said like Marlin-Romeo, he was happy there is movement on consumer protection. He asked the Minister for data on the number of businesses that have had licences/permits revoked for bad practices.
Independent MP Maurice Lake’s core question was whether there is already a framework for the consumer protection authority and how such will be funded by Government.
MPs Lloyd Richardson (UP) and Christophe Emmanuel (NA) expressed discontent with the current situation faced by consumers and called for more regulation of businesses.
The plenary session of Parliament was suspended after the first round of questions to give the Minister time to gather information. The session is slated to resume on Thursday, March 31, in Parliament House. Meeting start time will be determined later.
Source: The Daily Herald Competition authority law to be ready in April