The Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) continues its thrust in informing, educating and empowering consumers to protect themselves in the marketplace.
This is being done through its three-pronged approach of providing complaint resolution services, engaging in market research and running a vibrant consumer education programme.
Highlighting the CAC's performance for last year, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the entity, Dolsie Allen, reports that of the 1,611 complaints that were received, 1,413 were resolved, representing an 88 per cent resolution rate.
“In resolving these cases, we were able to secure, on behalf of aggrieved consumers, $9.9 million,” the CEO tells JIS News.
She points out that the most frequent complaints had to do with small appliances, electronic items, furniture, utility and the used car industry.
Citing the used car industry, she says that, “what we find is that consumers from time to time may purchase a 2004 or 2006 vehicle and when they go for insurance purposes or to have anything done to the vehicle, they realise that the vehicle is of an older year, for example, a 2006 vehicle is really a 2004."
“We have received quite a few of these challenges, so we are asking consumers, when you go to purchase vehicles, just ensure that the model year is correct, so you do not have the challenge when you go to transact business,” she warns.
The CEO is reminding consumers of the financial implications this may have in transacting business or securing loans from credit facilities and financial institutions.
Mrs. Allen says the CAC is dedicated to educating consumers on their rights and responsibilities and to assist in resolving problems and challenges that may arise while conducting various forms of commercial activities.
She argues that consumers should be aware of eight basic rights: the right to safety, to be informed, to choose, to be heard, to the satisfaction of basic needs, to redress, to consumer education, and to a healthy environment.
“We realise and accept that the global environment is changing and persons just need to be up to speed on these changes in order to cope…so we have to ensure that they are not being taken advantage of and whatever they pay for, they receive in terms of value for money,” the CAC head states.
She adds that the Commission participates in several expositions, exhibitions, seminars and other events and activities as a means of reaching consumers and educating them on their rights and responsibilities.
The entity also has a very good network with schools islandwide and makes numerous presentations at business places.
“We educate consumers on their rights and responsibilities because as consumers, you have a responsibility to ask the relevant questions, ensure that you have enough information when you go to do your transactions…ensure that you read the contracts, the small prints, and ask for warranty on high value purchases,” Mrs. Allen advises.
On market research, the CEO explains that the CAC conducts frequent surveys on basic food items, petroleum products and hardware items.
“We usually do a critical items survey that gives baseline price on products that you would need in the event of a natural disaster…so we would know what the price is before a disaster, in order to monitor and ensure that prices are not hiked during that time,” she tells JIS News.
A major thrust that the CAC is engaged in is a special project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Consumers International (CI), which is focused on institutional strengthening and capacity building of the consumer protection agencies in three Caribbean countries, namely Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados.
A main component of this project is the launch of a public education campaign on financial services, this April.
“We believe that in the lesser developed economies, many times persons are not very aware or financially literate and so we are trying to educate our consumers on the financial aspect of their lives….we all know that our financial situation may determine, to a great extent, our quality of life and many times when we go to these financial institutions, we feel a little intimidated and do not ask the relevant questions,” Mrs. Allen points out.
The initiative, she adds, is geared at educating consumers on financial matters and sourcing financial products.
“In this global environment, we have various financial services and products that are on the market and as consumers we need to be aware of these…we need to know what exactly suit our situation, so we will not just stick to one particular institution but will shop around, compare products and services being offered and the fees attached to these services and have accurate information to make informed decisions,” she says.
She urges consumers to be “vigilant, discerning and discriminating as you go about your normal activities and especially when you are purchasing items… make a budget, shop around and manage your finances wisely."
For further information on consumer-related issues or queries, persons can call the CAC at 978-4998, visit their website or facebook page.
By Kadian Brown, JIS Reporter