Consumers complain about bad products

POSTED: 01/22/13 12:42 PM

St. Maarten – Several consumers are still peeved that there remains no protection for them against crafty businesses who sell them faulty, bogus or expired items, particularly defective equipment. In response to a story that Today published in its January 21 issue where the Chamber of Commerce said that all stakeholders need to come together to realize a Consumer Protection Agency, consumers contacted Today with several complaints.

They said that while the authorities remain undecided on the way forward, consumers remain at the mercy of businesses, most of which are concentrated in the Philipsburg area.

“We are afraid to buy from certain stores after very bad experiences.  I bought two digital cameras and in less than six months, they were both finished. I paid hundreds of dollars for them. They are just ripping people off. The authorities know these stores and they are doing nothing about them,” one consumer advocate said.

Twenty six year old mother of two, K. L took advantage of a storewide sale on cellular phones last year. She was told that the warranty would only be for 1 week and she would only be allowed to return items with the receipt attached, within that one week period. She recounted that at the end of the second week of having a Blackberry cellular phone in her possession, which she had purchased during the sale, the phone began to shut down periodically.  L. claims that when she called the store to file a complaint, she was told to wait on the line for the manager. After holding on the phone for 45 minutes, the woman decided to hang up and headed to the Philipsburg store. The store refused to refund her money or exchange the phone since the 1 week warranty had ended. It was only after threat of public exposure via the media that the salesman agreed to exchange the phone and threw in a free memory card to buy her silence.

“We have been duped many times. Everyone looks after the interest of the tourist to make sure that they get the best. But what about us who live here, we need protection too,” the woman said.

Merchants who retail counterfeit items run the risk of having them destroyed and being fined, if they are caught by the original manufacturer who then issues a complaint to the Economic Affairs Ministry.

There’s also the case of an employee of the Ministry of Labour who reported to this newspaper that she had bought a pair of Geox Respira shoes from sporting goods store. The shoes cost over $80.00 and in less than a month the inner and outer sole had crumbled.

“They cannot sell certain items in the US and Holland, but all of the garbage products are dumped in St. Maarten and we buy them foolishly.”

The preparation of a Consumer Protection Act was being undertaken by the Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Harbor Group of Companies, a few years ago.

There has also been a draft law proposal for consumer protection that was discussed in Parliament two years ago but is yet to be adopted.

The only protection being offered to consumers currently is through the Consumer Affairs Department of Bureau Telecommunications and Post. The department handles complaints about problems or disputes customers encounter with their telecommunications and post service providers.

BTP keeps track of the complaints, investigates issues broad forward by customers and are addressed with the relevant service providers.

Last Friday, while speaking on the issue of bogus items, Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce Hubert Pantophlet said, “That cannot be tolerated because you are dealing now with our economy. The island is at risk of people saying that St.Maarten is dealing with bogus things.”


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