| History of the Consumer Affairs Commission
(formerly the Prices Commission)How it all Began…Legislation amending the Trade Act, which was passed in July 1970, resulted in the establishment of the Prices Commission. The Agency began operation on January 6, 1971, under a Prices Commissioner, who apart from being Chairman of the Board of Directors was also responsible for the Agency’s day to day operation. This situation was changed in 1976 when the positions were separated. An Executive Director had the responsibility for day to day activities and a Chairman of the Board was appointed with oversight responsibility.
The main function of the Prices Commission as established under the Act, was to operate as advisor to the Minister, who in this and every subsequent case, was the Minister of Government with portfolio responsibility for the country’s commerce. At the time when it was established, the Minister was the Hon. Robert Lightbourne, Minister of Trade and Industry. The present Minister is The Honourable Anthony Hylton, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce.
At its inception, the main emphasis of the Prices Commission, as part of its consumer protection mandate was that of price control. Under this mandate it sought to regulate the prices at which goods and services were sold, by setting and rigorously monitoring the prices in the consumer outlets – shops, supermarkets, bars. Price Controls were maintained in three categories known as “A”, “B”, and “C” List items, indicating the varied degrees of control. Categorised items were put in force by what was known as “Price Orders” signed by the relevant minister of Government and thereafter gazetted. The Commission also had investigative authority into reports of breaches such as hoarding and “marrying” of goods, with the power to prosecute. Additionally, the Prices Commission also devoted time to consumer and business education while seeking to address consumer complaints, which were mostly related to prices.
The period of heavy control of prices just about ended in 1980. 1981 saw a reduction in the number of goods, which had been under price control, as the Government during that time, began to pursue a path whereby prices were determined by the market forces, demand and supply; in other words, demand would determine the price at which goods and services were made available.
During the 1980’s, there was a constant reduction in the number of goods under price control, culminating in there being less than 10 items left under price control at the end of 1985, coming from over 60 in 1980. However, 1986 brought about a mild reversal when over 12 items previously decontrolled were put back under price control in May 1986. It was also during this period, in 1985 that Jamaica became signatory to the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection recognising the eight basic rights of the consumer, namely:
I. The Right to Safety
II. The Right to Choose
III. The Right to be Informed
IV. The Right to be Heard
V. The Right to Redress
VI. The Right to the Satisfaction of Basic Needs
VII. The Right to a Healthy Environment
VIII. The Right to Consumer Education
1989 – This year saw the continuation of a reduction in the number of controlled items and by February 1990, most items had been decontrolled. Those remaining were Petrol in all forms, Brown ‘dark’ Sugar, Liquid Petroleum Gas, Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicle Parts. Today, there is no control in the price of these goods.
1990 to Present – This period marked the change from the Prices Commission to the Consumer Affairs Commission (C.A.C.), beginning with Ministry Paper #12, which was presented to Cabinet on February 13, 1990. By Cabinet decision in 1992, there was an official name change heralding the birth of the Consumer Affairs Commission.
The focus of the Agency moved from one of Price Control to Consumer Education, providing a variety of information to better equip the consumer to cope with a liberalized, market driven economy. The Agency continued with its conduct of surveys on Grocery Items, Petrol and Pharmaceutical items with the emphasis being more on equipping consumers with information in making their purchasing decisions.
Information provided as part of this Education Programme include:
• Rights of the Consumer
• Responsibilities of the Consumer
• Budgeting, Shopping Hints
• Food Safety
• Consumer Vigilance
• Matters relating to the Environment
• Laws and Agencies providing Consumer Protection
The C.A.C. in its outreach programs tries to participate in all forms of activities and events, namely expositions, group presentations, workshops and seminars. It endeavours to reach individuals at all levels and age groups and to this end, it has an active school program. Matters relating to consumer education form a part of the school curriculum and the C.A.C. is always willing to participate in school activities geared towards enhancing the transmission of this curriculum.
The Agency also continued to provide Complaints Resolution services to its clients through a Complaints Bureau, with the focus however no longer being on price related grievances but instead on difficulties being experienced by consumers such as refusal or delays in repairing, or replacing defective goods; breach of contract, among others. Stemming from this was further development of its Business Education programme, to provide entrepreneurs with information as to proper and fair business practice in their interaction with customers. Being highly involved in consumer education, the Agency in previous years acted as a resource agency for the non-government advocate groups such as the National Consumers League, United Consumers in Action (no longer in existence) and The Combined Disabilities Association.
On March 14, 1999 the C.A.C. joined the Consumers International, a global consumer body, as an Affiliate/Government Member. Recognising the need for greater regional involvement, the Agency became a part of the regional grouping, the Caribbean Consultative Consumer Committee that was formed June 1999 at the Jamaica Conference Centre and which later changed in June 2001, to the Caribbean Consumer Committee, to which it acted as chair and convenor.
Services that We Provide
There are a number of services that consumers can access at the Consumer Affairs Commission free of charge.