I rise today on behalf of the beautiful people of Cat Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador, to make my contribution on the Consumer Protection Bill (2023), which will put in place a modern legislative framework to protect Bahamian consumers.
As I said in my contribution on the Speech From the Throne, throughout this new Parliamentary session our focus will reflect our three pillars of national development: personal security, economic security, and national security.
Today, we will take an important step toward the economic security of the Bahamian people as we protect the vulnerable among us from being preyed upon.
This Bill should be considered part of a larger plan to reimagine the Bahamian economy.
In our Blueprint for Change, we promised to deliver a fairer and more prosperous society for everyone, and we intend to aggressively pursue those objectives.
I know there are those who get a little “antsy” when they hear us talking about a fairer economy, because they have benefitted from inequity and a lack of fairness for years – even generations.
We must take action to break cycles of generational poverty and hardship in our communities.
I know how difficult it can be to experience upward social mobility when the odds are stacked against you.
I know because I once fought against those very odds, unsure of what opportunities would await me at the end of that fight.
Because of my formative years spent in humble beginnings on Cat Island, I know what it means to struggle through hardship, to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, and fight every day to achieve success.
I also understand that the way things are set up, not everyone has the opportunity to succeed despite their best efforts. Creating a fairer economy means helping those who want to help themselves to succeed.
But, the real catch is, Madam Speaker, that almost every human on this earth, at their very core, would like to experience success and happiness.
The issue is that we have built societies where far too many people have given up and opted out.
We see this in some of the underperforming students in our schools. We see this on the street corners and blocks where many of our youth congregate. And we see this in our prisons.
So, when we say that we want to help those who want to help themselves succeed, it is based on a premise that this is a near-universal human trait – not a talking point used to justify inequality by somehow suggesting that people are not succeeding because they don’t want to.
We must develop our economy, our schools, and our communities in ways that give our most vulnerable populations a reason to hope and believe in the possibilities of life.
This also means ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules, and that those who can afford to contribute do contribute. There should never be anyone so wealthy that they can buy their way out of playing by the rules.
Creating a fairer economy means taking steps to fix what ails our educational system and aligning our learning outcomes with labour market opportunities so that all of our children are prepared for the opportunities of the future.
And yes, it also means protecting Bahamians from unfair and dishonest business practices. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the effects of the global inflation crisis and the way it has ravaged the wallets of Bahamian families.
Our administration moved quickly to lower customs duties, introduce new price controls, and hire new price control inspectors in an attempt to cushion the impact even a little. But the core of the problem Madam Speaker, goes much deeper.
To reduce the cost of living, to prevent unfair business practices, and promote a competitive business environment so that more Bahamians have access to key industries, we must make some major decisions about the kind of nation we want to be.
I know that not everyone shares our vision, and some will even push back against the changes we are bringing about in this country, but I believe that what we want and what the vast majority of Bahamian people want are one and the same: we want everyone to have a fair shot at success and happiness.
We believe in the principle of economic justice as a pathway to economic dignity for all Bahamians.
That is the vision that will serve as the foundation for our economic model and national development strategies.
The Consumer Protection Bill before us represents a step in the direction of that vision.
The current Consumer Protection Act has served as a foundation to ensure fairness in our local business environment for many years. However, it became clear that there was a need to update the law.
Today, with this proposed Bill, we are making those needed amendments to the law to drive healthy competition, protect Bahamian consumers, and promote customer satisfaction. Trust is the key to a healthy business environment. In putting these protections in place, we are reassuring the Bahamian people that they can trust that the law will have their back when they encounter unfair and dishonest business practices.
In this era of globalization, rapid innovation, and e-commerce, there was a demonstrated need for a law that provides the kind of protections consumers require in 2023.
One of the most powerful new mechanisms that Bahamian consumers will have access to under this Bill is the expansion of the ways that they can lodge complaints. If you encounter unfair business activities, you can file a complaint from anywhere, even if you are not in the country. Your geographic location will no longer be a barrier to receiving justice.
In this Bill, we are protecting minors and those who are too ill to make decisions for themselves, as well as people living with disabilities, because these populations also deserve to be protected.
We cannot have a fairer country without creating a more inclusive country. So, it was very important that these protections were included.
In cases where a person is unable to give testimony in-person, they will now be able to deliver that testimony virtually instead, once again expanding access to justice for those who are wronged.
Under this Bill, all providers will be required to be licensed and registered, in accordance with the law – failure to do so will incur a penalty. Those who seek to mislead or deceive consumers will be held accountable for their actions. And those who seek to bully, harass, or coerce consumers into making purchases will also be held accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, this is necessary because there are people out there who prey on the vulnerable in our society. They search for those they consider easy targets and develop a skillset around deception, aggression, and criminality.
These unfair practices must be, and will be, penalized.
The Consumer Protection Bill (2023) will enhance the protections available to those who fall victim to these tactics and ensure that we can effectively identify and hold these predatory goods and service providers accountable.
This includes the restriction of pyramid schemes. So, those who are prone to promoting these get-rich-quick pyramid schemes in The Bahamas to take advantage of people’s desire for success and financial stability, know that you will be held accountable and liable for the damage you cause to people’s lives.
One of the most important parts of this law addresses the rights available to consumers. Many people are not aware of their rights, and I believe that as this law is implemented and enforced, this part of the law must be put out there for public awareness and education.
Among these rights as a consumer is the right to receive the details of the goods being sold. There is a right to measure and verify goods being bought. There is a right to receive a receipt as proof of purchase and a right to receive a refund given certain conditions.
There are also specific obligations imposed on Providers that the business community and the general public should be aware of.
There is the obligation to honour the terms of a warranty. There is an obligation to inform consumers when goods have been reconditioned, rebuilt, or remade, and there is the obligation for the price of a good to be disclosed, among other obligations.
The contents of this Bill are quite comprehensive. I encourage every member of the public, as well as local businesses, to familiarize themselves with the various parts of this Bill.
I am certain that those who have been affected by dishonest business practices will have an appreciation for this updated and modernised Consumer Protection framework.
Just a few years back, there was a very popular trend being marketed to the Bahamian people – they called it a Loom. Those who launched businesses promoting Loom services essentially relied on a pyramid structure with no real product or service for sale. It relied on the money coming in from members to pay the members who started the Loom. Many people fell victim to this trend with hopes of making a rewarding return on their investments.
This Bill now protects those who are targeted by similar pyramid schemes and holds the ones who target consumers with these schemes accountable.
You know, there are mothers out there who want to buy their child the latest video game or other popular gadgets as Christmas approaches. And there are electronic goods providers lurking out there who are waiting in the wings to sell a refurbished electronic item passed off as a brand new item – sometimes with temporary Band-Aid repairs that allow the device to work just long enough to be sold.
Those parents will now be protected from these dishonest practices.
And this law doesn’t just target small businesses. Our focus on accountability ensures that all businesses, big and small, operate in a fair manner.
I’m sure we have all dealt with a business that tried to find every way in the world to wiggle out of honouring its return policy or not living up to its warranty policy. Assuming the customer has adhered to the terms of the agreement and is not at fault, there will now be protections in place for those consumers.
The enactment of this bill will signal a significant shift in our approach to consumer protection. Every Bahamian consumer will be better protected.
This bill, at its heart, is about fairness. The Bahamian entrepreneur who is starting a new business will now know that they are playing according to the same rules as larger businesses when it comes to providing quality goods and services at fair prices according to reasonable standards. And when Bahamian families purchase local goods and services, they will know that there is a recourse for them should they need it.
I thank the team at the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and the civic organizations who worked closely with us to finalise the draft before us today. As always, our policymaking is significantly informed by our private sector stakeholders.
What we see in the Consumer Protection Bill (2023) is just the first of many progressive steps to reform the way we conduct business in The Bahamas. We are in the midst of revamping our National Investment Policy and investment promotional strategies, which will include proposed changes to improve the ease of doing business, a new look incentives scheme in target industries, and, most importantly, a focus placed on domestic investors and businesses so that Bahamian-owned businesses feel more included in the investments conversation.
But even those plans pale in comparison to the steps we must take in the near future to create a more equitable society for everyone. This is a personal passion of mine. It’s one of the reasons I entered politics, and I absolutely intend to deliver on this promise for the Bahamian people.
This term will not end without more substantive actions taken to keep making progress toward a fairer and more prosperous society. This is a future that this PLP administration will fight for and push for every step of the way.
We have a long way to go to fulfill this vision – revamping our economic model is not a short-term undertaking. But together with the Bahamian people, we can make this journey toward a better Bahamas one step, one law, one change at a time.