JIS News

So you have bought that brand new stove that was going for that sweet deal and after bringing it home, you find that it does not work. Don’t cause a scene, as your remedy to the situation may just be a phone call away to the Consumers Affairs Commission (CAC).
And, with the new Consumer Protection Act (CPA) soon to be enacted into law, consumers will have even greater protection from unscrupulous vendors, while on the flip side, vendors will also have equal protection from mischievous customers.
Raymond Pryce, Director of Research, Information and Communication at the CAC, informs JIS News the new Act invests additional powers in the CAC, while persons of companies may face fine or imprisonment for breaches.
This is a change from the existing system of mutual agreement, where for instance, a company/vendor may agree to refund the full cost of a product to an aggrieved consumer and the matter ends there.
Now, the new Act speaks to breaches of code of conduct or good business practices as it relates to the consumer and for these breaches, vendors may face prison sentences or a specified fine depending on the particular area of the law that has been flouted. He points out that the CPA also provides protection for businesses against mischievous consumers.
“We have found, in the past, that sometimes consumers will bring things to our attention and will state their case in a manner that is more likely to bring the compassion of the agency on their side and when we have done our investigations, we realize that what the complainant has done is basically misrepresent what actually happened,” he says.
For such consumers, Mr. Pryce warns that the Act speaks to the ability of the agency to seek to fine or recommend a prison term for consumers, who breach the terms of business with service providers. “I want it to be clearly understood that the Act seeks to protect both businesses and consumers and to create a fairer market space prior to the Act.”
In addition, the new Act will see the CAC becoming a quasi court or tribunal where requested testimony will have to be documented in a specific manner to seek to resolve certain matters. “We also have had to begin to change our approach to complaints handling and resolution because the CPA speaks to specific procedures, which before might not have applied in all circumstances, which we now must apply,” he says.
The CPA was passed in November of 2004 and since that time, the Commission has been equipping itself to enforce the law.
As part of the process, the agency will be seeking to increase consumer education to inform vendors and providers as well as consumers about the various sections and interpretation of the Act.
Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology, Minister Phillip Paulwell will make a determination that the entire necessary infrastructure is in place for the Act to then be enacted into law. “When that process has been completed then the Minister will make the effective date publicly known and the next phase of the consumer protection Act and consumer protection in Jamaica would have begun,” says Mr. Pryce.
But, as the marketplace becomes more competitive with more issues to be addressed, the Jamaican public is becoming increasingly aware of the role and functions of the CAC and utilizing the services offered.
Mr. Pryce notes that the CAC has had numerous ways of evaluating this increased knowledge, “through the issuing of evaluation forms when we go to exhibitions. We also ask consumers how they heard about us if it is through the media or if they had brought a complaint to our attention and if we were successfully able to resolve it. We also get calls directly to our office from members of the public and usually we notice an increase in calls right after there has been an activity where the CAC was showcased,” he indicates.
The majority of the complaints initially received by the Commission comes via a phone call. This is oftentimes followed by a personal visit, while persons have also been utilizing the service offered via the CAC’s website to lodge complaints.
“We also get persons to come in to the Commission when we do our field activities such as a presentation at a exhibition or an exposition or if we visit a citizens association or neighbourhood watch meeting and speak to them about the role of the CAC. What normally happens is that there is an additional set of persons who may not before have known about the CAC and they will now bring things to our attention or refer persons to us as well,” he explains.
Complaints to the CAC are variable and include problems with furniture, hardware and household fixtures, appliances and electronic items, utility services, automotive, clothing, food, pharmaceutical and other general categories.
“I will never forget a person calling to our attention the fact that they thought the price for coffins were going up too high and wanted to know if the CAC had a position on what a fair cost for a coffin should be.
Of course we don’t have a coffin price survey as yet, I don’t know if we ever will have one but basically, it shows that when consumers have any kind of concern or issue, the CAC often is the first port of call,” Mr. Pryce relates to JIS News.
On occasions when the complaints are more than the CAC can handle, Mr. Pryce explains that they seek the assistance of other entities. “When we get calls or concerns that we ourselves cannot deal with then we seek to navigate the system on behalf of the complainants and then to repose the complaint in the entity or agency that is best equipped to deal with the particular matter,” he says.
Although a lot of the complaints received by the CAC are from individuals, there are many instances when groups bring the grievances. “Oftentimes we have complaints or matters referred to us by interest groups or lobby groups such as non government organizations that might have recognized a trend that they are seeking to bring to our attention, to ask our assistance or (seek) advice,” he says.
The Research and Communication Director says the CAC has been enjoying favourable success rates, particularly because of the willingness of members of the private sector or vendors, against whom a complaint has been lodged, to assist in seeking to resolve the matter. “Our success rate is a direct function of the partnership and the relationship we have with many vendors,” he discloses.
According to Mr. Pryce, over 70 per cent of the complaints brought to the CAC’s attention have been resolved, with both parties, particularly the consumer, being in agreement with the negotiations or resolution brokered on their behalf.
He notes that often a consumer, who has been misinformed will believe they have been treated unfairly, however, when the CAC intervenes and recognizes that it is a case of poor information, some consumers are willing to accept the decision.
“Some consumers realize that with the CAC’s assistance, in many cases the vendor, though not thought to have done something wrong, will for good relationship or customer service, resolve the matter favourably in respect of the consumer. In other situations, both the vendor and the consumer have decided that we have not brought them to a resolution that they are comfortable with and either party or both have sought recourses through the court or legal system to have the matter resolved,” he explains.
Mr. Pryce says it is important to note that the CAC enjoys a great relationship with members of the private sector as well as the public sector entities that provide goods and services for sale to members of the public. “We are also finding now that businesses are referring matters to our attention before they make it policy”, he informs JIS News.
In other instances, Mr. Pryce says entities such as the financial sector have sent brochures to the CAC introducing a new financial product and seeking its input on its content, to determine if the average consumer will fully grasp the information being relayed. “We find therefore that the relationship that we have had with businesses over the last couple of years has been shifting to one of mutual partnership rather than a state entity seeking to arbitrate a particular manner on behalf of a consumer,” he says.
The CAC, he notes, works in conjunction with other entities such as the Fair Trading Commission. “You might find that on a particular issue for instance the Fair Trading Commission has more prominence in terms of how they are viewed by a particular sector or business entity and therefore they would seek their involvement to give an opinion as to whether what the CAC has said is also consistent with what they would have said, ” he explains.

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