EDITORIAL – Consumer Protection: A turkey of a bill that will not fly

The Consumer Protection Bill, still in draft form, has already failed its first test – “truth in labeling.”

One of the most-used tactics in the parliamentary playbook is to sugarcoat a poisonous piece of legislation by bestowing upon it a benign title. Who could possibly oppose a “Consumer Protection Bill?” An “Affordable Care Act?” Or a “Patriot Act?”

Although this bill has been languishing for a decade without much advancement, it made its real “Broadway debut” this past Thursday at a meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and attended by some of the most stellar and respected leaders in the business community.

The reviews are now in. The bill bombed. Big time. And it deserved to …

Thanks to the U.K., Cayman no longer has the death penalty, but that does not mean we cannot impose capital punishment on proposed legislation that would impose such harm and cost to our community.

For starters, does anyone believe that this proposed law, conceived and promoted by the Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission, was the work product of a legal fraternity that suddenly developed such a big heart for the “little man” – the consumer – at which even the cardiac surgeons at Health City Cayman Islands would marvel?

Gene Thompson, who developed Health City with Dr. Devi Shetty, is not “marveling.” Here’s what he said at the Chamber’s public meeting:

“It’s clear to me that whoever drafted this has never run a business. It’s very anti-Caymanian and very anti-business. There’s the underlying assumption in this bill that every one of us is dishonest. We’re trying to fix a problem that does not exist.”

Tim Adam, who runs the Turtle Centre and formerly ran Cable & Wireless, said this: “This is definitely adding costs … and it’s definitely adding huge risks. It’s going to mean either unavailability of goods and services … or the suppliers are going to say that they are going to have to build into their pricing the protections that they need.”

Woody Foster, managing director of Foster’s Food Fair IGA, while open to the concept of consumer protection, said, “The consumer has to have something to go back to, but I don’t think it’s this bill.”

For nearly a decade, the Law Reform Commission, with ancillary support from some law firms, has been trying to get this turkey to fly. It will not, and it cannot, largely because it is weighted down with so much Byzantine legalese, imprecise language (“reasonable notice,” “good grounds,” “valid reason”) and frankly, dangerous dogma, most notably the creation of a new politically appointed five-member Consumer Affairs Commission that has the power to act as a court: It can levy fines of thousands of dollars on suppliers and citizens. Disobeying the commission can lead, with a court conviction, to penalties including more fines or even incarceration in Northward Prison for up to one year.

Equally bad, if this draft bill becomes law, it will represent yet one more expansion of Cayman’s already bloated, budget-busting, and intrusive government regime. Government has already become too large to succeed.

The Compass overflows daily with news stories and commentary of consumers decrying operational dysfunction – no, not from the private sector but from the governmental sector: Inadequate education, corruption in the delivery of healthcare services, solid waste
(mis) management, license tag pileups, immigration queues and snafus … need we go on?

Can you imagine if this so-called Consumer Protection Bill applied to all government agencies and departments with a powerful commission created to fine or imprison government officials for failure to provide the services for which they are paid to perform?

Informally yet effectively, Cayman’s free market is governed by a pair of counterbalancing provisos: “Caveat emptor” (Let the buyer beware) and “Caveat venditor” (Let the seller beware).

If lawmakers even consider taking up this bill for consideration – even with the intent of amending it – we suggest voters keep in mind a third maxim: “Caveat legislator.”

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