Kudos to the government for working closely with the opposition to finally pass consumer protection legislation, which Virgin Islands leaders have been promising for more than three decades.
The achievement is a big feather in the current administration’s cap.
One need only remember the aftermath of Hurricane Irma to understand one high-profile reason why the law is needed: Some businesses took advantage of residents’ distress by price gouging and other unsavoury practices that are again being reported now during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new act, which was passed last week in the House of Assembly and now awaits the governor’s assent, should help the government crack down on such practices. But it also does a lot more than that.
Indeed, the bill lays a broad legal groundwork for a more progressive business landscape that protects consumers and businesses alike.
Though the final version of the bill has not yet been Gazetted, previous drafts included sections on complaints and investigations, consumer rights, duties of suppliers, unfair trade practices, unfair terms, and consumer safety, among others. Most anyone who has done business in the territory can attest to the importance of such provisions.
The current government deserves praise for tackling the bill quickly after coming into office in February 2019, and for giving the public ample chance to weigh in last year.
The bill’s passage last week, then, was a collaborative success, and we hope that Governor Gus Jaspert grants his assent straightaway.
But bringing the act into force won’t be enough. Like any piece of legislation, the law will need to be enforced and fairly applied. Given its complexity, this task won’t be easy.
We were pleased, however, that the HOA also passed a related law last week that will help government enforce and administer the Consumer Protection Act, in part by establishing a statutory body called the Trade Commission.
These are big steps. Moving forward, we hope to see both bills taken seriously, with proper funding and consistent enforcement.
Their passage last week was a long-needed step toward a more progressive and just Virgin Islands.