The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism has begun work on a number of legal and procedural activities that will eventually culminate with the establishment of a Price and Quality Control Unit for the country.
The work is long overdue after Parliament first passed the Price Control Act for the country in the 1990s.
The work by the Ministry follows a decision of the Council of Ministers in November 2016 to set up the Price and Quality Control Unit and to engage the Private Sector Development initiative branch of the Asian Development Bank to prepare a position paper in competition, hold consultations with various stakeholders regarding the establishment of an agency to monitor prices and enforce consumer protection.
Acting Director General, George Borugu, says now Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism is working on three things that will eventually lead to the establishment of the price control unit.
These are: Drafting of a Competition Policy, establishment of Consumer Affairs Council and ratification of the International Convention on Consumer Protection.
Borugu said that drafting of the Competition Policy is now taking place with the assistance of an expert funded by the ADB after which the draft will be put through public consultation before it goes to the Council of Ministers next month for consideration. He explained that the Competition Policy will provide a guideline for what to do to help consumers.
“For example, there are many laws enacted by Parliament of Vanuatu.
“But the majority of these laws target our needs as producers or business people but only a few target our needs as customers or consumers. These few laws are: Employment Act, Public Health Act, Minimum Wage Act, Vanuatu National Provident Fund Act, the Intellectual Property law,” Acting DG Borugu said.
“The Competition Law will guide the country in terms of businesses.
“One part of it is what Telecommunications and Radio Regulatory Authority (TRR) is working under, to regulate the quality and services of the radio and telecommunication sector.
“URA is regulating the services of utility company providing electricity and water.
“Now we only have TRR Act and URA Act and the Competition Policy will cover all of them including those that have not yet been covered such as banking services, the retail and wholesale sector, and all other businesses that provide services to the people who are consumers, Borugu explained.
“If you are not happy about the food or goods you buy from a shop or the services of a bank then you can lodge a complaint under the Competition Policy.” Price is one part of a package of services that consumers need.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism is also restructuring the Department of Industry to create a Department of Industry and Consumer Affairs, which will be the secretariat of the Consumer Affairs Council, Borugu added.
“If you buy an item from a shop and you’re not happy about the prices because you think the quality is not good, the services of banks and retails stores, telecommunication then you can process your concerns.”
Vanuatu has a Price Control Act, which was enacted in the 1990s “but it is not being enforced because there are many more things the country needs to have that will help to make the Price Control Act meaningful in the lives of the people and enforceable”.
“Price Control Act is another thing, but what we plan to do is to have the Competition Policy put to the Council of Ministers and have it made law and then review the Price Control Act to make it come in line with the Competition Policy.”
The plan of the Ministry also is to one day introduce a Competition Act to regulate how businesses operate and how they make their money in a way that they do not negatively affect the consumers through their pricing and the quality of their goods or services.
There are many policies and laws we in Vanuatu have not yet had in place in terms of the people’s consumer welfare. Other Pacific Island countries already have these instruments in place.