Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A CONSUMER protection tribunal is to be established to hear and determine whether persons who offer goods and services for sale are doing so in accordance with the law.
The tribunal, which will come into existence when the Consumer Protection Act is amended, will have the power to call and examine witnesses, examinedocuments and articles, and make orders, including the payment of refunds and interest to consumers.
It will also have the power to require the publication of price lists; prohibiting the attachment of any extraneous conditions to transactions; suspending or modifying terms in agreements; and prohibiting the withholding of supplies by a seller to a consumer.
"This tribunal has teeth and clout," Anthony Hylton, the minister of investment, industry and commerce, said as he piloted the bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The bill, which was passed with eight amendments contains a $2-million fine and/or two years' imprisonment for persons found guilty of refusing, without reasonable or lawful cause, to answer questions when summoned as witnesses before a tribunal.
A similar fine or prison term may be applied if a person gives misleading testimony before the tribunal.
The bill also provides for a penalty of up to a $2-million fine and/or up two years' imprisonment for persons who insult a member of the tribunal, disrupt the proceedings of the tribunal, or do anything at a tribunal which would be regarded as contempt of court.
Fine of $2 million
Persons who fail to comply with an order of the tribunal, commit an offence and are liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to $2 million or a prison term of not more than two years.
In the meantime, the bill proposes to allow for one-off transactions between consumers and the providers of goods and services, like the sale of a motor car, to be included in the law.
"Previously, such a transaction did not fall within the ambit of the act and the Consumer Affairs Commission had no jurisdiction in matters falling in that category," Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Hylton said.
Under the amended act, the CAC will be empowered to represent any consumer in court. The CAC, under the existing legislation, can only represent minors, ill persons or deceased persons.
The proposed amendment to the act says the seller must include all components of the total price payable by the consumer in respect of goods and services, including the application of general consumption tax and any other taxes or duties.
Following passage in the House, the bill will now go to the Senate, and, if passed there, will go to the governor general to be signed into law.