The Consumer Council of Fiji welcomes the establishment of a consumer complaints/compensation tribunal, which aims to give consumers a clear, simple, and more flexible and affordable redress system.
The right for effective redress is one of the fundamental consumer rights – the Council applauds the Government for recognizing this and for its commitment towards setting up of the Consumer Tribunal.
The Council notes that the tribunal incorporates the “compensation” element which currently requires consumers to go through civil court. When traders get fined or receive other penalties, there is nothing provided for consumers who have incurred losses and costs.
Presently, many aggrieved consumers just don’t have the money to seek justice in the court because of the exorbitant legal fees and charges or inordinate delays.
The Council has noted cases where consumers decide not to pursue their claim through the Court because the costs of legal proceedings are higher than the compensation amount. Faced with this situation, consumers give up although the same illegal behaviour of a trader harms a number of other consumers.
It is precisely this helplessness of consumers that drives unfair trading practices in the marketplace. The biggest beneficiaries of a complex and costly legal system are the traders and service providers engaged in unethical business practices.
With Consumer Tribunal, the tribunal proceedings will be simple, non-intimidating, and informal thus creating an environment where consumers and traders/service providers will be able to represent themselves without any solicitors.
The business community will equally benefit from the Tribunal because unethical action by businesses not only hurts consumers but also hurts legitimate businesses that rely on fair competition.
In 2010, the Council through financial assistance from the European Union commissioned a review of consumer protection laws and redresses mechanisms in Fiji which amongst other recommendations proposed the idea of a Consumer Tribunal.
The funding by the EU enabled the Council to initiate establishment of a Consumer Tribunal for Fiji with the aim to provide speedy resolution of consumer disputes. The Council remains grateful to EU for its contribution towards an important project for the benefit of vulnerable consumers.
The proposed Consumer Tribunal is expected to fix the cracks that exist in the current marketplace, making it more fair, just and efficient.