Consumer Protection Bill delayed

Following an uproar among local business owners over a proposal to implement consumer protection rules in Cayman, the government commission which drafted the bill has agreed to extend a public review period on the issue until May.

The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce noted Wednesday that the deadline for public comments on the draft Consumer Protection & Guarantees Bill will now be May 1. All participating Chamber members are expected to provide input by the end of March.

Chamber President Paul Byles said it was clear following last week’s public meeting held at Chamber headquarters that the current draft of the legislation did not have much support from the business community.

Mr. Byles also opined during the meeting that it appeared little direct consultation had been done among businesses, particularly the retail sector, before the draft bill’s initial release last October.

“Draft legislation of this nature is going to have a significant effect on local businesses,” Mr. Byles said. “The meeting with our members made it clear that there are quite a few legitimate concerns.”

Chamber officials recommended all businesses read a draft of the legislation and submit comments. It is not scheduled to come before the Legislative Assembly during a meeting later this month and is likely to be amended prior to that presentation in any case.

The draft bill seeks to establish “a legal framework for the achievement and maintenance of a consumer market that is fair, efficient and responsible.” The law, if passed, would apply to “all persons engaged in a trade or business.”

The legislation seeks to create a Cabinet-appointed Consumer Affairs Commission, consisting of five people that would be given the powers of a court to request information in consumer-business disputes and to investigate consumer complaints. The commission is given the power to order certain penalties for those who violate the law and is tasked with providing general information on consumer rights.

Orders given against wayward companies or service providers by the commission can include demands to replace defective or unsafe goods, to discontinue unfair trade practices, to pay compensation to consumers if a breach of law occurs and to correct erroneous advertisements.

Goods and services suppliers that do not comply with commission’s orders can receive up to a year in prison or a $5,000 fine. A person who is aggrieved by a commission order may appeal to the court within 30 days of the order.

The draft bill also sets out certain rights given to the consumer, including the right to refuse unsolicited goods, the right of the consumer to authorize services and the right to avoid “unreasonable” cancellation charges. The draft bill seeks to allow consumers to halt “continuing service agreements” three weeks after giving notice.

The legislation would set out “guarantees” in relation to the supply and quality of goods or services provided. The supplier or manufacturer that breaches those guarantees is said to be “liable to such penalties as may be described” in the draft language of the bill.

Industry leaders in Cayman railed against the proposal when it was reviewed during last week’s public meeting.

“This [proposal] is not a friend … in terms of lowering costs of doing business in Cayman,” said Foster’s Food Fair IGA Managing Director Woody Foster.

“It’s clear to me that whoever drafted this has never run a business,” said Health City Cayman Islands developer Gene Thompson. “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.”