Kareem Nelson-Hull of the Premier’s Special Projects speaks to a group of business owners on Tuesday about the proposed Consumer Protection Act, 2019. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

The government is holding a series of meetings with business owners and the wider community to gain input in preparation for the second and third readings of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, which has been introduced again after more than a decade of promises by successive governments.

“We need consumer protection to safeguard and promote a healthy level of trading within our territory,” Junior Minister of Trade and Economic Development Sharie de Castro (R-at large) said in a statement released Monday.

“I believe we are all aware of some of the areas that can deal with swift adjusting, and we also witnessed the dreadful price gouging that took place following the 2017 natural disasters.”

The junior minister added that the act would protect consumers and businesses alike, facilitating “the evolution of commerce” in the Virgin Islands.

Seeking feedback

The current government included the bill in its campaign platform and Premier Andrew Fahie announced in April that he planned to reintroduce it “with a little twist.”

It received a first reading in the HOA on May 17. However, explained Ms. de Castro, instead of putting it forward for its second and third readings, the government chose to first solicit feedback from the community before moving any further.

“Because of our government’s desire to ensure that the bill is as thorough as possible and has a positive impact on trading here at home, it is important that we discuss this legislation [so that it] is suit- able for business practice and development, as well as protecting the rights of the con- sumer,” she said.

The first two meetings were held Tuesday and Wednesday on Tortola, and the series will continue on the sister islands through Monday.

Bill’s history

A similar bill, which was much discussed in the months after Hurricane Irma, was previously pushed forward by the former government in April 2018, when Cabinet approved a potential framework for it.

But it hit a snag amid squabbling between then-Junior Trade Minister Marlon Penn and Attorney General Baba Aziz, whose chambers were responsible for drafting the legislation.

The AG blamed a “legal conundrum,” and Mr. Fahie told the HOA in April that Mr. Penn tried his best to get the bill passed, but was hampered by opponents in the then-National Democratic Party government.

“There were members with him that didn’t believe in it, [but] those that had [a conflict] are gone,” Mr. Fahie said at the time. “The people of the Virgin Islands will get what they deserve.”

Details of bill

Ms. de Castro acknowledged that the bill is not “absolutely perfect” but called it “a great start,” with sections that address complaints and investigations, consumer rights, duties of suppliers, unfair trade practices, unfair terms, and consumer safety.

“It is designed to create a balance between protecting the consumer, while at the same time providing safeguard measures to ensure that businesses are not subject to frivolous and fraudulent claims by customers,” she explained.

In explaining the legislation, Ms. de Castro said that it will include a tribunal to hear and resolve disputes between consumers and suppliers of goods and services and would be fair to all parties.

“The only persons who would be adversely affected by this consumer protection legislation are the few bad apples who, if not monitored, could spoil the whole bunch,” she added.