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State Minister for Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, says the setting up of a tribunal to provide greater protection for consumers, is a step in the right direction in enhancing business practices in Jamaica.

She said that other such bodies are needed to adjudicate on business matters. “I believe that this will help to move business forward in Jamaica and if we see more areas where we can have tribunals, we should make that attempt to do so. This, of course, will bring greater accountability to business practices in Jamaica and will protect the consumer to a much higher level,” she said on October 16, 2012 in the House of Representatives.

Mrs. Ffolkes-Abrahams was contributing to debate on the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2012, which was approved after eight amendments.

The Bill, piloted by portfolio Minister, Hon. Anthony Hylton, seeks to strengthen the authority of the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) in resolving disputes and seeking redress on behalf of consumers, and to make provision for the establishment of a Consumer Protection Tribunal.

It makes provision for widening the powers of the CAC to include legal representation; the strengthening of provisions relating to warranties; and increasing fines for breaches.  It also stipulates conditions to be set out in advertisements; and to allow ‘one-off’ transactions between customers and suppliers to fall within the ambit of the Act.

Member of Parliament for North East St. Elizabeth, Raymond Pryce, who supported the Bill, said the amendments give the CAC a more proactive role “in making very clear or more certain, the rules of engagement between producer, supplier and consumer”.

Opposition Spokesman on Transport, Works and Infrastructure Development, Karl Samuda, said the legislation is “long overdue and should be welcomed by all”.  He said he is particularly pleased with the provision, which gives the CAC full investigative powers in relation to breaches under the Act.

“Now, the power to investigate without even being prompted, but on its own, is something that is long overdue and I’m very happy to see it brought to the House and I support it entirely,” he stated.

He however suggested that the fine imposed if a witness before the tribunal gives false answers or refuses/fails to answer without reasonable excuse, be increased from $500,000 to $2 million.

In agreement, Minister Hylton said one of the important objectives of the Bill must be to send a very clear message to everyone that this new CAC and its tribunal has teeth.  “To simply ignore an order of the tribunal or matters related to it…is considered to be a sufficiently serious matter as to attract the stiffest of fines,” he stated, noting that $2 million send a more powerful signal.