Chamber not ready to establish Consumer Protection Agency

POSTED: 01/21/13 1:09 PM

St. Maarten – 2013 will be a challenging year for the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Vice President Hubert Pantophlet says, but the new executive is up to the task. Whether the entity that introduced its new executive board last Friday, will push for a Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) to be made a reality, remains to be seen.
For years there has been talk of a CPA which would further regulate the retail industry while offering protection to consumers, residents and tourists alike. During a press conference last week, Pantophlet made it clear that the private and public sector need to agree on whether St. Maarten needs a CPA poste haste. “In the past, we were taking on things that went beyond the scope of our duties but I think through this new executive board we will be channeling everything through the public-private partnership where various stakeholders can come to a decision on how we can tackle these things better.”
In the meantime, the Chamber continues to be inundated with consumer complaints. Since the entity is responsible for registering businesses and advocating for development in the business sector, retailers assume that it is also the agency that policies businesses. Pantophlet said he is aware of a foundation or department that government has set up to deal with consumer complaints but he is unaware of whether it is operational. “If it were then we would not be bombarded so many complaints. To say right now that the Chamber is going to do it, no,” Pantophlet said as he referred to the setting up of the CPA.
Executive director Claret Connor said that the majority of complaints, the Chamber receives are from people who purchase electronics such as cellular phones and cameras that malfunction after the warranty has expired. “Oftentimes, people are not informed about registering a product with the manufacturer. So the people (stores) don’t give guarantees, the guarantees are given through the manufacturer but people fail to do that.” Connor said that because of this, the Chamber has had to become the mediator between businesses and consumers to resolve disputes. In many instances, tourists also take risks in purchasing certain items and leave them on the island to be shipped to their country of residence, Pantophlet added. “There is a risk, there is no insurance. In this era of technology where you can easily ask the business where to go to ship your item, people do differently. When you go on your own and do certain things, there is a risk.” Pantophlet recalled a prior situation where, the Chamber intervened to resolve a dispute. “When we followed up on it, it was for the risk of the person purchasing the jewelry. It just disappeared, who do you blame? The business place didn’t have anything to do with it. You bought it, you took it home and then you want to return it. You could have returned it through DHL which would have been a better place to send it back rather than that you sent it through the post office. There is a big risk there. Some of the things we cannot do anything about,” Pantophlet said.
On the issue of counterfeit items, the new board said that the sale of bogus items, to tourists in particular, continues to be a cause of concern. It can negatively affect the image of the island that is known for duty free luxury items. However, identifying, warning or stopping the culprits is the job of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and its Control Unit, the Chamber maintains.

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