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Consumer organisation necessary

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18.JAN.11

Recently, there has been much discussion on call-in radio programmes about the level of service provided by at least one telecommunications company here. This is in keeping with the trend towards airing these complaints via the media and hoping that “somebody” would hear and “do something” to remedy the situation.{{more}} We have heard similar protestations before, whether related to food prices (many more on this are bound to be aired this year), electricity bills or the quality of government services.

Some callers and writers in the press have made calls for one or another form of public action to be taken, in the search for solutions. Generally though, these have tended to be sporadic and reactive, their resonance depending on how affected the public feels at that point in time. These forms of public pressure have their usefulness and need to be encouraged and supported. But we need to go far beyond this, to develop a more co-ordinated and consistent response on consumer issues.

First, we all need to be cognisant of the fact that whatever our station in life, we are all consumers. Mr. X may pay a far larger electricity bill than his humble gardener, but both are consumers of electricity services and thus affected, one way or another by the actions of the utility company. Mrs. Y may spend many times more on groceries than her domestic helper, but both have to face the supermarket, store or market. Mr. A may have the full range of cable television services in contrast to his neighbour’s basic package, but, like thousands of others, what Karib Cable does, has bearing on their pockets and level of satisfaction.

The most basic thread that connects us is, therefore, that we are all consumers, of goods and services. Even producers of commodities and providers of services are consumers of those goods and services which they do not produce or provide. They too have an intrinsic interest in consumer affairs, or at least ought to do so. If this really sinks in, we would realize what a potentially powerful force a Consumers’ movement could be and why we need to look in that direction as one of the solutions to whatever ongoing dissatisfaction we may endure in our consumption experiences.

Sadly, we have failed to grasp this over the years. It is as though we always feel that solutions to our problems lie elsewhere, anywhere else, but with us. As far back as 1976, an attempt was made, with very limited success, to establish a Consumers’ Association here. The late Mr. Bertram Nicholas, one of the pillars of the New Democratic Party, was central to that initiative. Over the years, other dedicated persons, among them Mr. Robert Sandy and latterly Mr. Junior Bacchus, have made efforts in this regard. But, by and large, the public has not given the response that such efforts deserve.

Whatever the reasons, we now live in an age of information, including limitless information on consumer matters. Should we not now try to capitalize on this and to organise ourselves so as to ensure that consumers get justice and proper service? In addition, such a movement can insist that such vital institutions as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs play the kind of role which they ought to perform. Perhaps this can be a clarion call to the not-very-active Consumer Affairs Association to redouble its efforts in that regard. It is a necessary instrument for achieving fairness to consumers.

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