Message from Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Trade

On 15 March every year the world celebrates Consumer Rights Day. In Fiji, I like to take this opportunity to update Fijians on new developments pertaining to consumer rights in the country.

The relationship between businesses and consumers should always be a positive one: consumers accessing goods and services and fuelling economic growth as businesses evolve and expand to meet the demand for goods and services by those very consumers.

It’s Government’s job to put in place safeguards that ensure transactions are fair, honest and transparent, for all parties. And if they’re not, to make sure people can seek redress for their complaints.

To this end, as was announced by the Prime Minister in his 2014 budget address, Government will soon set up a Consumer Complaints and Compensation Tribunal.

The tribunal will give consumers a simple and affordable avenue to pursue their claims. Presently, many aggrieved consumers do not have the option to seek justice through the courts because of the nature of the legal system and costly legal fees. This tribunal will put an end to the inequity in the system by offering a mechanism that is accessible to all and that delivers justice in a timely manner.

This year will also see the formation of a Government price monitoring task force whose job it will be to ensure that Government’s raft of duty reductions are translating into affordable prices for consumers. Reducing or zero-rating duty is meant to lower the cost of important items to give access to goods and services to more Fijians and in particular those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.

It supports Government’s policies, whether it is encouraging economic growth by dropping duty on plant and machinery or it is promoting healthy lifestyles by dropping duty on fruits and vegetables.

For example, Government removed the duty on smart phones to put the power of this new technology into the hands of more Fijians. It’s part of our plan to build a clever, modern nation.

We want every Fijian to have access to the technology that is transforming our society by changing the way we communicate, the way we conduct business, and the way we access information and gather knowledge.

Thanks to our reforms Fijians from every corner of the country are enjoying the convenience of mobile phones, cheaper calls and texts, and better coverage. This coverage will expand. And thousands are gaining access to the Internet for the first time through our Government Telecentres located in schools across Fiji.

But now that the telecommunications and Internet revolution has taken root, it is one of Government’s most important jobs to make sure that the benefits of the modern age do not flow only into the hands of the privileged, creating even bigger gaps in our society between those with access to technology and those without. That’s why we spend so much time and effort developing innovative ideas to make mobile and Internet accessible and affordable for all Fijians.

But in our work to accomplish this, we have to make sure that we do not cut corners that leave ordinary people exposed to bad practices, poor service and unfair trade practices. We must always insist on upholding the highest standards across a broad front, and this includes consumer rights. So I am pleased to see that this year’s Consumer Rights Day theme – “Fix Our Phone Rights” – supports this goal.

However, the onus is not just on businesses. Consumers have a responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect themselves. And so we believe that consumer education is extremely important to increase awareness about things like quality, standards and service expectations. This way, consumers can make informed decisions and avoid disappointment.

It’s a team effort and I hope that we continue to strengthen the channels of dialogue between Government, consumers and the private sector so that together we can address issues quickly and effectively as they arise.

It is now my pleasure to wish you all a successful world consumer day.

Thank you.

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