On March 15th of each year the global community observes World Consumer Rights Day in order to shine the spotlight on the rights and entitlements of consumers of goods and services which are purchased from manufacturers, suppliers and sellers. The theme for this year’s observance of World Consumer Rights Day is “Fair Digital Finance” – a focus that is meant to stress the importance of consumers’ access to financial products and services, using the digital, electronic and online platforms that have been created to boost the ease of doing business.
“Fair Digital Finance” also means the following:-
1)That the necessary digital infrastructure, be it the internet, the mobile phone or computer, would be in place to facilitate our access to financial products and services which are provided to customers by banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, cash transfer businesses, etc.;
2) That all consumers, regardless of their socio-economic status, should have access to digital financial services;
3) That when digital financial services are made available to consumers the cost for such would be fair and affordable;
4)That vulnerable groups such as our youth, single mothers, the poor and persons living with disabilities should be included in the access to, and design of affordable, digital financial services; and
5)That Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) must be included in digital financial platforms in order to enable them to provide goods and services to customers.
When one takes the time to ponder the significance of World Consumer Rights Day, one should realise that the core objective is that of ensuring that you and I – as consumers –
are able to purchase the best quality goods and services that will not be harmful to our health and general wellbeing, and that these said goods and services will be sold to us at competitive prices within a positive customer service environment.
The Group of 20 of the world’s richest nations, normally referred to as the G20, would have developed in 2016 some eight (8) High-Level Principles for Digital Financial Inclusion. These principles would have had input from the private sector, non-G20 countries, international organisations and Central Banks. They are as follows:
1) Promote a Digital Approach to Financial Inclusion;
2) Balance Innovation and risk to Achieve Digital Financial Inclusion;
3)Provide an Enabling and Proportionate Legal and Regulatory Framework for Digital Financial Inclusion;
4)Expand the Digital Financial System Infrastructure Ecosystem;
5)Establish Responsible Digital Financial Practices to Protect Consumers;
6) Strengthen Digital and Financial Literacy and
7) Facilitate Customer Identification for Digital Financial Services; and
8) Track the Progress of Digital Financial Inclusion.
Essentially, all of the above Principles can be summed up as follows: (a) that digital financial services should be available to all; (b) that laws and regulations must be in place to protect both consumers and the providers of financial goods and services; (c) that those who provide digital financial goods and services to consumers must ensure that they adhere to a strict Code of Ethics or Industry Standards; (d) that providers of digital financial services and products must be able to take on a manageable level of risk even while using innovation and technology to power their businesses; and (e) that performance indicators must be put in place to track the progress being made in terms of digital financial inclusion.
St. Kitts and Nevis is fairly well advanced in terms of the provision of digital financial services and products to consumers. We are also very fortunate to have one of the highest mobile telephone penetration rates in the CARICOM region. This means that with more persons having access to cellular phone technology, more business can be conducted using electronic means. We can also see, through the emergence of digital financial services being provided by local firms such as JAD Cash and Carib Pay, that our Country is steadily progressing in this sector. Our market has also seen the entry of D-Cash, which is a digital currency product of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) that was launched in 2021. Within the past few months we have also witnessed the interesting development of some 129 local businesses that are now taking the crypto currency Bitcoin as an acceptable form of payment for goods and services. As of the time of this recording, some 125 of these businesses were in St. Kitts and four (4) in Nevis.
In St. Kitts and Nevis, advocacy for consumer rights is led by the Ministry of International Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs. The Department of Consumer Affairs is the Ministry’s focal point for such matters and functions
in several ways to protect consumers. This includes regular policing of business entities to ensure that matters such as clear pricing, placement and storage of goods, expiry dates,
after sales services, return policies, etc, are properly in place to protect consumers. The Department also provides mediation services in an effort to fairly settle consumer disputes with the private sector that may have originated from false, misleading or deceptive representation. Every effort is also made to empower consumers through various forms of consumer education. This year, the Ministry is also focused on strengthening the legislative and regulatory framework in which business is conducted in our Country via the passage of a new Consumer Protection Bill that already had a first reading in August 2021. The Department intends to complete all stakeholder consultations on the Bill by the end of the second quarter 2022 before the Bill receives its 2nd reading and is then passed.
The Department of Consumer Affairs continues to encourage all citizens and residents to know and exercise their rights as consumers. Consumers are also welcomed at the Department to seek redress of their grievances. A week of activities has been planned to observe World Consumer Rights Day 2022, the highlights of which are as follows:
➢ Business Sensitization Forum – March 15th ➢ Joint Staff Retreat in Nevis – March 16th
➢Staff Sensitization Workshop & Panel Discussion on ZIZ Radio and Television – March 17th.
A Church Service would have already been held at the Zion Moravian Church on Sunday, March 13th; and Consumer Spotlight Radio Sessions were carried on ZIZ, Freedom FM, Sugar City FM and Von Radio on Monday, March 14th.
Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts and Nevis, I extend best wishes to all on the occasion of World Consumer Rights Day 2022. Let us know our rights as consumers, and exercise those rights in a manner that fosters good relations between the buyers and sellers of goods and services in our Federation.