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World Consumer Rights Day Exhibition Opens in Pompey Square

World Consumer Rights Day Exhibition Opens in Pompey Square

NASSAU, The Bahamas — A World Consumer Rights Day Exhibition was officially launched Monday, 13th March, at Pompey Square, downtown. World Consumer Rights Day, Wednesday, March 15, 2023 carries the theme, “Empowering consumers through clean energy transitions.”

Consumer Agencies represented included the Ministry of Economic Affairs (Consumer Affairs Unit), Consumer Protection Commission, Prices Commission Board, and the Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality. Other organizations that have partnered with the government include: Bahamas Power & Light Co. Ltd., Best Energy Bahamas, Easy Car Sales, Super Green Solutions and the Utilities Regulations & Competition Authority.  Attending the event was Minister of Economic Affairs, the Hon. Michael Halkitis, who announced that a three-day exhibit will be staged in the square to educate and empower consumers.

“Every year on March 15, the consumer movement and other influential actors, through the coordination of Consumers International, come together to celebrate World Consumer Rights Day to raise global awareness on consumer rights, protection, empowerment and needs,” said Mr. Halkitis.  “First celebrated in 1983, this year marks the 40th year observation. Each year the consumer movement unites to highlight a pressing issue facing consumers globally.”

The Minister explained that one of the most current and pressing issues facing consumers is rising prices. “For decades, many developing nations have been susceptible to high food and fuel prices. Whether it be due to the global commodity price boom in 2007, or the demand surge following the reopening of global markets after the COVID-19 pandemic, or shortages following the war in Ukraine, emerging market and developing nations are almost always adversely affected,” said Mr. Halkitis.

He noted that  in 2022, food prices had hit record levels that created challenges for food security worldwide, especially in the developing countries, like The Bahamas, which import most of their food. “The index published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that tracks the prices of the most traded food commodities remained at historically high levels in November 2022 (135.7 points) after reaching an all-time high in March 2022 (159.3 points).”

He explained that although the emerging market and developing nations have endured high food and commodity prices in the past, current price hikes are triggered by strict monetary policy in advanced economies, namely in the United States. Higher than usual interest rates have made the cost of trade in US dollars higher, and ultimately more expensive. “The combination of high food and gas prices coupled with more expensive international borrowing is leading to a ‘double burden’ that truly highlights the importance of more sustainable practices,” said the Minister.

He said that it is impossible, therefore,  to ignore the impact that climate change and global drivers are having on the domestic economy. As a small island developing state with a high rate of imports, consumer affairs and protection agencies in The Bahamas are essential to ensuring domestic goods are of sound quality and appropriately priced.

As it relates to domestic consumption, he said that measures are also being taken to ensure that Bahamian consumers are fairly treated. 

“As you all know, the role of a consumer in an economic system is critical because it is consumers who purchase goods. Without consumers we have no demand, no exchanges of funds, and no need for commerce, so it is imperative that we dedicate resources to serving this vital group that we all belong to,” he said.  “Since taking my post as Minister of Economic Affairs I have prioritized strengthening the consumer affairs branch of the government in an effort to ensure consumers are well served within our economy. In terms of consumer affairs, three agencies, the consumer protection commission, price control, and Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality, all work tirelessly to serve The Bahamian people. In our mandate to strengthen consumer protection measures, we have taken a renewed approach and significant strides by developing the Consumer Affairs Unit or “Price Control”.  During this time of unprecedented price-uncertainty, concrete actions were taken to invest in the infrastructure and resources applied to consumer protection, which will move the country forward and protect every Bahamian, especially the poor, the working class and those in need. 

The Minister also discussed the measures currently being taken by the government.

“Firstly, to build capacity, staffing needs were addressed with seven new inspectors recruited. The inspectors were engaged to ensure adequate manpower to enforce the Price Control Act and Regulations,” he said. “Secondly, on the 20th to 23rd February 2023 we have successfully completed our first National Training for Consumer Affairs Inspectorate. This four-day training included inspectors not only from New Providence but from across our archipelago: Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Andros, Bimini, Inagua and Cat Island. The Government wants to ensure that the Bahamian people can have confidence in the competency of our Inspectors in regulating Price Control,” he continued. “Thirdly, we are solidifying strong leadership and infrastructure. The Government has secured a new permanent location in New Providence that is currently being renovated, on Tonique Williams Highway. The expected date of completion is April 2023 to house both the Consumer Affairs Unit and the Consumer Protection Commission,” he concluded.  

He also pointed out new mechanisms being established to assist consumers. 

“Furthermore, to establish infrastructure for the ease of doing business and mechanisms for more accessibility to address consumer issues we have taken preliminary steps to review, modernize, and strengthen consumer protection legislation. Over the near term my Ministry will launch the E-Bahamas revolution within Consumer Affairs. Presently, two app and software developers are designing and testing a variety of tools to improve and accelerate the operations and inspection processes through digitization.” 

He said that for the first time, price inspectors will be able to conduct digital inspections, and merchants will be able to make digital requests for adjustment in prices. This will provide more efficient means to carry-out and complete the inspection process and reduce carbon emissions in the process. Virtual procedures can allow for timely exchanges between the commission and merchants and limit the need for traditional processes like one- time use materials such as pen and paper, or use of fossil fuels to drive to a physical location. 

“It is important to note that we have invested purposefully in technology which will not only support ease in doing business but cut down on unsustainable practices,” he said. “As a result, we expect increased productivity, efficient inspection procedures, improved communication, increased transparency, and faster decision-making mechanisms. Such improvements are essential to carrying out the consumer affairs objective of providing every Bahamian across the archipelago of the Bahamas equal access to Consumer Advocacy, Education and Protection.

The Minister also gave an overview of this year’s theme and objectives.

“Consumers International is the membership organization for consumer groups around the world (200 consumer groups in 100 countries) selected the global theme for this year “Empowering Consumers Through Clean Energy Transition.” Owing to various economic and socio-political phenomena over the past few years, consumers are being affected by many issues. Such issues are inclusive of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, supply chain issues, the fluctuating cost of fuel and numerous climate change issues. Thus, ensuring an avenue of help to consumers through present difficulties is essential. The tireless work of this administration to strengthen consumer protections and build a sustainable economy whilst enabling a rapid transition that guarantees sustainability, security, and affordability in the long term is well underway.”

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