Busts of Glanville Fonseca and Howard Penn, two candidates in the 1967 general election, are among the four statues in front of the House of Assembly chambers. (File Photo: CONOR KING DEVITT)

Virgin Islands residents hoping for additional consumer protection safeguards this hurricane season are likely to be disappointed as House of Assembly members squabble about who is to blame for the delay in introducing related legislation.

Cabinet approved a consumer protection policy in April but no subsequent legislation has reached the HOA chambers. During an HOA sitting in August, Marlon Penn, the junior minister for trade, investment promotion and consumer affairs, publicly called on Attorney General Baba Aziz to finish drafting the bill.

“It’s been in the Attorney General’s Chambers now for a few months now,” Mr. Penn (R-D8) said. “I wanted to encourage the attorney general, who’s sitting here with us today, that we need to have that legislation brought forward to bring some type of control, some kind of guidance and redress to the commerce market in the BVI and especially what we experienced a year ago after the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria and the level of gouging and unfair business practices that ensued after those storms.”

The junior minister demanded to see a draft of the act introduced by the end of summer.

“We promised the people this legislation,” Mr. Penn said. “We’ve done the work to bring it forward. I’ve seen many legislations that weren’t in the pipeline before this come to this honourable House. This legislation needs to be shown some level of priority and I want to put it on the public record that we have done the work that we needed to do to ensure that you have what you needed to do to draft this legislation.”

AG’s retort

At an HOA sitting in September, Mr. Aziz shot back, claiming the delay was due to a “legal conundrum” relating to the establishment of a statutory body.

The AG’s Chambers, he explained, had successfully drafted consumer protection legislation in 2004 and revised it again in 2011 and 2013.

“We have a history of doing the best that we could in drafting a consumer protection bill, but may I state that in this particular instance there was a legal conundrum which held the bill up,” the attorney general explained, adding, “There is the intention to have a trade commission which is intended to be a statutory corporation, but that statutory corporation has not yet come into force and the Consumer Affairs Division is intended to be under the Trade Commission Corporation.”

The AG’s Chambers in no “way, shape or form” intends to delay any bill Cabinet has instructed it to draft, he added.

Mr. Aziz and Mr. Penn could not be reached for further comment.

Lawmakers have promised to pass consumer protection legislation for years and the issue was much discussed in the months after the hurricanes.


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