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Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Michael Stern, has said that amendments will be made to the Consumer Protection Act, in an effort to provide greater protection to the consumer by widening the scope of the Act.
Making his presentation in the 2008/09 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on June 17, Mr. Stern said the amendments would allow the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) greater powers of litigation.
The State Minister informed that it has been proposed to provide the CAC with the power to independently institute legal proceedings against a provider in its own name for any breach of the Act.
Additionally the CAC will have the power to “institute court action upon the request of a disadvantaged complainant,” he said, noting that at present the CAC may only institute legal proceedings on behalf of complainants who are minors, dead or infirmed.
“We are planning to empower the CAC to investigate on its own initiative, a breach by a provider of goods or services, of any provision of the Act. Currently, the CAC is empowered to investigate breaches only after a complaint has been made and the complainant has been disadvantaged or adversely affected,” he pointed out.
Additionally, for purposes of resolving disputes, the establishment of a Hearings Commission, which would be a quasi-judicial body independent of the CAC, is being proposed. Alternatively, the possibility of setting up a Mediation Commission, which would be a mediation/arbitration body, is being explored.
The State Minister explained that the Act would be amended to require that conditions set out in advertisements of goods or services be conspicuous, legible and in simple easy-to-understand language, so that the consumer is aware of the material terms and conditions which apply to the proposed contract.
“We are recommending the inclusion of a general provision giving the power of the court to order, as it may deem fit, a convicted provider to compensate a consumer for damage, loss or cost incurred by the consumer as a result of a provider’s breach. Currently, section 35 of the Act makes provisions for this, but is confined to offences involving misleading and deceptive conduct, false representations and unfair practices,” he said.
The State Minister explained that the overall objective is to create a legal framework which offers the best possible protection for consumers, while facilitating free trade and global competitiveness.