NASSAU, The Bahamas – During his Contribution in the House of Assembly, on November 1, 2023, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Philip Davis said that the Consumer Protection Bill (2023) will put in place “a modern legislative framework to protect Bahamian consumers.”
“Today, we will take an important step toward the economic security of the Bahamian people as we protect the vulnerable among us from being preyed upon,” Prime Minister Davis said. “This Bill should be considered part of a larger plan to reimagine the Bahamian economy.”
He noted that in his Government’s “Blueprint for Change” it promised to deliver “a fairer and more prosperous society” for everyone, and added that it intended to “aggressively pursue those objectives.”
Prime Minister Davis said: “I know there are those who get a little ‘antsy’ when they hear us talking about a fairer economy, because they have benefitted from inequity and a lack of fairness for years – even generations. We must take action to break cycles of generational poverty and hardship in our communities.
“I know how difficult it can be to experience upward social mobility when the odds are stacked against you,” he added.
“I know because I once fought against those very odds, unsure of what opportunities would await me at the end of that fight.”
Prime Minister Davis shared that, because of his “formative years spent in humble beginnings on Cat Island”, he knew what it meant to “struggle through hardship, to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, and fight every day to achieve success.”
“I also understand that the way things are set up, not everyone has the opportunity to succeed despite their best efforts,” he said. “Creating a fairer economy means helping those who want to help themselves to succeed.”
“We must develop our economy, our schools, and our communities in ways that give our most vulnerable populations a reason to hope and believe in the possibilities of life,” he added.
“This also means ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules, and that those who can afford to contribute do contribute. There should never be anyone so wealthy that they can buy their way out of playing by the rules.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that creating a fairer economy meant taking steps to fix what ails The Bahamas’ educational system and aligning the nation’s learning outcomes with labour market opportunities, so that all of its children were prepared for the opportunities of the future.
“And yes, it also means protecting Bahamians from unfair and dishonest business practices,” he noted. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen the effects of the global inflation crisis and the way it has ravaged the wallets of Bahamian families.”
“Our administration moved quickly to lower customs duties, introduce new price controls, and hire new price control inspectors in an attempt to cushion the impact even a little,” Prime Minister Davis added. “But the core of the problem goes much deeper.”
Prime Minister Davis said that, to reduce the cost of living, to prevent unfair business practices, and promote a competitive business environment so that more Bahamians have access to key industries, his Government must make some major decisions about “the kind of nation we want to be”.
“I know that not everyone shares our vision, and some will even push back against the changes we are bringing about in this country; but I believe that what we want and what the vast majority of Bahamian people want are one and the same: we want everyone to have a fair shot at success and happiness,” he said.
“We believe in the principle of economic justice as a pathway to economic dignity for all Bahamians,” he added. “That is the vision that will serve as the foundation for our economic model and national development strategies.”
“The Consumer Protection Bill before us represents a step in the direction of that vision.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that the current Consumer Protection Act had served as a foundation to ensure fairness in local business environment for many years. However, he said, it became clear that there was a need to update the law.
“Today, with this proposed Bill, we are making those needed amendments to the law to drive healthy competition, protect Bahamian consumers, and promote customer satisfaction,” Prime Minister Davis pointed out. “Trust is the key to a healthy business environment. In putting these protections in place, we are reassuring the Bahamian people that they can trust that the law will have their back when they encounter unfair and dishonest business practices.”
“In this era of globalization, rapid innovation, and e-commerce, there was a demonstrated need for a law that provides the kind of protections consumers require in 2023,” he added.
“One of the most powerful new mechanisms that Bahamian consumers will have access to under this Bill is the expansion of the ways that they can lodge complaints. If you encounter unfair business activities, you can file a complaint from anywhere, even if you are not in the country. Your geographic location will no longer be a barrier to receiving justice.”
Prime Minister Davis stated that, in the proposed Bill, the Government was protecting minors and those who were too ill to make decisions for themselves, as well as people living with disabilities, because “these populations also deserve to be protected.”
“We cannot have a fairer country without creating a more inclusive country,” he said. “So, it was very important that these protections were included.”
“In cases where a person is unable to give testimony in-person, they will now be able to deliver that testimony virtually instead, once again expanding access to justice for those who are wronged,” he added.
Under the proposed Bill, Prime Minister Davis said, all providers will be required to be licensed and registered, “in ccordance with the law – failure to do so will incur a penalty”.
“Those who seek to mislead or deceive consumers will be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “And those who seek to bully, harass, or coerce consumers into making purchases will also be held accountable for their actions.”
Prime Minister Davis added: “Unfortunately, this is necessary because there are people out there who prey on the vulnerable in our society. They search for those they consider easy targets and develop a skillset around deception, aggression, and criminality.
“These unfair practices must be, and will be, penalized.”
He stated that the Consumer Protection Bill (2023) will enhance the protections available to those who fell victim to those tactics and ensured that we could effectively identify and hold those “predatory: goods and service providers accountable.
Prime Minister Davis noted: “This includes the restriction of pyramid schemes. So, those who are prone to promoting these get-rich-quick pyramid schemes in The Bahamas to take advantage of people’s desire for success and financial stability, know that you will be held accountable and liable for the damage you cause to people’s lives.”
Prime Minister Davis stated that one of the most important parts of that law addressed the rights available to consumers.
“Many people are not aware of their rights, and I believe that as this law is implemented and enforced, this part of the law must be put out there for public awareness and education,” he said.
He continued: “Among these rights as a consumer is the right to receive the details of the goods being sold. There is a right to measure and verify goods being bought. There is a right to receive a receipt as proof of purchase and a right to receive a refund given certain conditions. There are also specific obligations imposed on Providers that the business community and the general public should be aware of.”
“There is the obligation to honour the terms of a warranty,” Prime Minister Davis added. “There is an obligation to inform consumers when goods have been reconditioned, rebuilt, or remade, and there is the obligation for the price of a good to be disclosed, among other obligations.”
Prime Minister Davis said that the contents of the proposed Bill were “quite comprehensive”; and he encouraged every member of the public, as well as local businesses, to familiarize themselves with the various parts of the Bill.
He added that he was certain that those who had been affected by dishonest business practices will have an appreciation for the “updated and modernized” Consumer Protection framework.
Prime Minister Davis noted: “Just a few years back, there was a very popular trend being marketed to the Bahamian people – they called it a Loom. Those who launched businesses promoting Loom services essentially relied on a pyramid structure with no real product or service for sale. It relied on the money coming in from members to pay the members who started the Loom. Many people fell victim to this trend with hopes of making a rewarding return on their investments.
“This Bill now protects those who are targeted by similar pyramid schemes and holds the ones who target consumers with these schemes accountable.”
He added: “You know, there are mothers out there who want to buy their child the latest video game or other popular gadgets as Christmas approaches. And there are electronic goods providers lurking out there who are waiting in the wings to sell a refurbished electronic item passed off as a brand new item – sometimes with temporary Band-Aid repairs that allow the device to work just long enough to be sold.
“Those parents will now be protected from these dishonest practices.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that that law did not just target small businesses.
“Our focus on accountability ensures that all businesses, big and small, operate in a fair manner,” he stated.
“I’m sure we have all dealt with a business that tried to find every way in the world to wiggle out of honouring its return policy or not living up to its warranty policy,” Prime Minister Davis added. “Assuming the customer has adhered to the terms of the agreement and is not at fault, there will now be protections in place for those consumers.”
He stated that the enactment of the proposed bill will signal a significant shift in The Bahamas’ approach to consumer protection; and that every Bahamian consumer will be better protected.
Prime Minister Davis said: “This bill, at its heart, is about fairness. The Bahamian entrepreneur who is starting a new business will now know that they are playing according to the same rules as larger businesses when it comes to providing quality goods and services at fair prices according to reasonable standards. And when Bahamian families purchase local goods and services, they will know that there is a recourse for them should they need it.”
“I thank the team at the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and the civic organizations who worked closely with us to finalise the draft before us today,” he added. “As always, our policymaking is significantly informed by our private sector stakeholders.”
Prime Minister Davis said that what was seen in the Consumer Protection Bill (2023) was just the first of many progressive steps to reform the way we conduct business in The Bahamas.
“We are in the midst of revamping our National Investment Policy and investment promotional strategies, which will include proposed changes to improve the ease of doing business, a new look incentives scheme in target industries, and, most importantly, a focus placed on domestic investors and businesses so that Bahamian-owned businesses feel more included in the investments conversation,” he pointed out.
“But even those plans pale in comparison to the steps we must take in the near future to create a more equitable society for everyone,” Prime Minister Davis added. “This is a personal passion of mine. It’s one of the reasons I entered politics, and I absolutely intend to deliver on this promise for the Bahamian people.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that the current term will not end without more substantive actions taken to keep making progress toward a fairer and more prosperous society.
“This is a future that this PLP administration will fight for and push for every step of the way,” he said.
“We have a long way to go to fulfill this vision – revamping our economic model is not a short-term undertaking,” Prime Minister Davis added. “But together with the Bahamian people, we can make this journey toward a better Bahamas one step, one law, one change at a time.”