Nelson Mandela once said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. I have often ignored some things, hoping they would disappear, but even then, I knew it was wrong. What I have described is my being afraid. Afraid that if I spoke about injustice or wrongdoing, the people around me would ignore the message and crucify the messenger. After all, he who is without sin is never the one who casts the first stone and the sinner who cries out against sinfulness is always crucified as though he is the only one who has fallen short.”
March 15, 2023, is World Consumers Day. This day is celebrated yearly to remind each business, consumer and government that they can draw attention to the fundamental rights of all consumers and unfair competition dealt out to companies and to respect and protect their individual needs.
The Netherlands and Curaçao protect consumers from being taken advantage of. They ensure that businesses are protected against other companies using unfair practices, price gouging and other unfair competition tactics. They also give the consumer who drives the economy a place to vent their frustration and seek satisfaction should any business mistreat them.
Today, businesses and residents alike purchase Internet service from companies who collect millions while providing less than half of what is agreed on your Internet Service Plan. Families complain that some medical professionals ignore their relatives’ complaints as trivial until it is too late. Cellular service is almost non-existent when you cross the border on a 36-square-mile island, often resulting in late responses to messages or loss of opportunities to receive important calls.
Consumers are forced almost daily to take something else in the shop in exchange for the wrong or malfunctioning thing they purchased despite not needing it. Debit cards are being charged a percentage for usage, and shops have a minimum purchase amount before they can accept your card. If you only wanted bread, you would need to purchase another $17 in goods to charge your card for the bread. On the other hand, the bank offers a VISA debit card, which you are charged a percentage to use at certain outlets because it acts like a credit card, despite spending your own money, and you are penalized for being charged a rate to use it.
Consumers make decisions daily based on incorrect information, whether provided by a government agency or another institution whose employees were not adequately trained or supervised. Rather than asking for help, they make up a rule or policy that does not exist.
All of these things have in common that they happen daily to many of us. While some of us go nuts screaming about it at the establishments, we all end up walking away with no satisfaction or avenue to lodge our complaints and have our rights as consumers protected. Businesses such as those in middle-income areas have to endure what seem to be overzealous inspections of noise and the like that sometimes are necessary, but often appear unwarranted and interfere with these businesses’ ability to operate.
Entrepreneurs follow guidelines to start their businesses and then feel targeted by government officials who make it nearly impossible for companies to thrive. Despite these issues almost daily, not much has been done in the way of consumer protection except for the unfair competition ordinance that is being worked on.
Today I wish to highlight that protection, for both business and especially the consumer have been treated as unnecessary for too long. An excerpt of an article published on Monday, July 26, 2021, by
St.Maartennews.com states: On January 10, 2017, former TEATT Minister Ingrid Arrindell sent two draft ordinances for advice to the Social Economic Council (SER): the consumer ordinance and the competition ordinance. Already on February 9, the SER issued its letter of advice addressed to Minister Arrindell’s successor Rafael Boasman and to then Prime Minister William Marlin. According to the SER, “Studies should be carried out whether a Consumer Authority is necessary.”
St.Maartennews.com also wrote, “Chairlady Oldine Bryson-Pantophlet wrote, ‘A consumer authority adds little value to the current consumer protection framework.’”
The SER advised, “To establish an entity that protects consumers.” Still, it found yet another deficiency in the draft stating that the consumer authority and its attached legislation would supersede all other national laws. The article says, “Lastly, the SER barked at the projected costs; the draft ordinance mentions a budget of 1.6 million guilders (close to $894,000) for a fully operational Competition Authority by the end of 2019. This amount is significant considering that laws that protect consumers are already in place and should be enforced.”
I believe the article by St.Maartennews.com should have received more attention, as should the issue of consumer protection. More people are buying everything from clothing to vehicles online and off-island, and they are experiencing a level of service that offers full refunds where necessary. In addition, despite sometimes getting the wrong thing, our locals are comfortable returning to the online stores because of this appreciation for consumers’ rights. If this trend continues, there will be less need for local businesses. If we put the Consumer Protection Bureau in place, we can protect what is left of our economy, and people will have restored confidence in buying locally.
When I started on this journey to speak out about the absence of the Consumer Protection Bureau and proper laws to protect the people who make St. Maarten’s thriving economy what it is, I felt sure that many of my fears would come to life, and I still do. I also realized that despite many people experiencing harsh and unfair treatment by some businesses and the challenge of some companies not being allowed to open bank accounts while being allowed to operate, not enough is being said, and even less is being done.
Today, I am standing up because fear cannot continue being the reason why good people refuse to stand up for themselves and others. If my life can have meaning from this point forward, I would like to believe that it would be that I conquered my fear because I am motivated. Mandela was on point when he said, “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear. And, courage is a choice that we can make over fear.”