Categorized | Opinions, Regional

Commentary: The Caribbean needs a consumer protection organisation

By James Post

Most Western countries have organisations in place to allow consumers to report bad business behaviour. Usually, the intervention of such organizations leads to correction. This article discusses how the position is and how this could be resolved.

Reporting bad business behaviour

In the USA, there is the “Better Business Bureau” that is not just a watchdog organisation, but also actively engages in cases where companies treat consumers unfairly. Once engaged, the companies will usually correct their faulty proceedings. Besides, organisations like BBB rate companies, which is a highly preventive manner to avoid bad business behaviour. As far as I know, there are no consumer protection organisations in the Caribbean. Companies can treat customers badly and get away with it.

My experiences

Personally, I faced many maltreatments during the more than 10 years that I have lived in the Caribbean. Especially the behaviour of contractors is beyond any limit (Google: “stop the construction carnival” for details). Some accept a construction job, intending not to finish the job but to move out at the “financially optimal” moment. Consumers theoretically could go to court, but the legal system in the Caribbean makes this financially unviable, as trials can last for years.

The latest maltreatment I faced was by the cable company in Grenada (Columbus Communications). Last December they had a special offer to attract new customers, offering free installation. When I called them, I asked whether there were any restrictions on the distance to the closest connection – I live about 4,000 ft away from there — the answer was that there are no restrictions. I went to their office, asked one more time about the restrictions and the salesperson said that with this campaign there are no distance restrictions.

A few days after signing the agreement and paying, two technicians came and we discussed how to make the connection. As there are no poles on my property, we agreed to go underground to my house and I committed to provide PVC pipes with fishing wires hereto. The technicians requested me to call the office once the works were completed.

After three weeks of digging, placing pipes and further preparations, I called Columbus Communications’ office to report I am ready for the installation. A few days later three salespersons came and said they would do the installation against a fee of $8,000. After complaining, the marketing and sales director answered that they only do free installation within 150ft. But they failed to communicate that during the sales process.

Last summer I had an experience with LIAT airlines. I was traveling from Grenada to Barbados to get a connecting flight to Miami, with onwards connections to New York and Europe. Fifteen minutes after take-off the captain advised that he would land in St Vincent by request of management and we would need to contact the ground crew for further information. Well, the ground crew knew nothing… All travelers were left in the dark and without food or drinks. Only after I and other travelers insisted on getting food and drinks – after many hours — LIAT instructed the airport restaurant to issue sandwiches to the travelers.

LIAT promised to inform the connecting airlines in Barbados about the delay and re-book connecting flights. They also committed to put us into hotels after it became clear that the delay would be long. Finally, we arrived in Barbados after 1.00 a.m. the next day and they put us in a guesthouse that sells rooms by the 4 hours. Most did not accept and made their own arrangements. Travelers were not compensated for their missed flights. LIAT had not informed the connecting airlines, so their connecting flights were booked as “no shows”. Travelers had to purchase new tickets at premium prices.

The solution

The Caribbean needs an organisation to protect consumers from maltreatment and it is not too difficult to set up. The CARICOM secretariat would be an excellent medium hereto. They could accept reports by consumers and contact the accused companies. Usually, companies will correct the issue as they don’t wish to damage their reputation, but in extreme cases they should be brought to court.

James Post moved to the Caribbean in June 2000 after a career in marketing management, lastly as CEO. He now owns a small resort in Grenada (www.paradisebayresort.net) and runs a consultancy business (www.internetmarketing-mentor.com)

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

By James Post

Most Western countries have organisations in place to allow consumers to report bad business behaviour. Usually, the intervention of such organizations leads to correction. This article discusses how the position is and how this could be resolved.

Reporting bad business behaviour

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In the USA, there is the “Better Business Bureau” that is not just a watchdog organisation, but also actively engages in cases where companies treat consumers unfairly. Once engaged, the companies will usually correct their faulty proceedings. Besides, organisations like BBB rate companies, which is a highly preventive manner to avoid bad business behaviour. As far as I know, there are no consumer protection organisations in the Caribbean. Companies can treat customers badly and get away with it.

My experiences

Personally, I faced many maltreatments during the more than 10 years that I have lived in the Caribbean. Especially the behaviour of contractors is beyond any limit (Google: “stop the construction carnival” for details). Some accept a construction job, intending not to finish the job but to move out at the “financially optimal” moment. Consumers theoretically could go to court, but the legal system in the Caribbean makes this financially unviable, as trials can last for years.

The latest maltreatment I faced was by the cable company in Grenada (Columbus Communications). Last December they had a special offer to attract new customers, offering free installation. When I called them, I asked whether there were any restrictions on the distance to the closest connection – I live about 4,000 ft away from there — the answer was that there are no restrictions. I went to their office, asked one more time about the restrictions and the salesperson said that with this campaign there are no distance restrictions.

A few days after signing the agreement and paying, two technicians came and we discussed how to make the connection. As there are no poles on my property, we agreed to go underground to my house and I committed to provide PVC pipes with fishing wires hereto. The technicians requested me to call the office once the works were completed.

After three weeks of digging, placing pipes and further preparations, I called Columbus Communications’ office to report I am ready for the installation. A few days later three salespersons came and said they would do the installation against a fee of $8,000. After complaining, the marketing and sales director answered that they only do free installation within 150ft. But they failed to communicate that during the sales process.

Last summer I had an experience with LIAT airlines. I was traveling from Grenada to Barbados to get a connecting flight to Miami, with onwards connections to New York and Europe. Fifteen minutes after take-off the captain advised that he would land in St Vincent by request of management and we would need to contact the ground crew for further information. Well, the ground crew knew nothing… All travelers were left in the dark and without food or drinks. Only after I and other travelers insisted on getting food and drinks – after many hours — LIAT instructed the airport restaurant to issue sandwiches to the travelers.

LIAT promised to inform the connecting airlines in Barbados about the delay and re-book connecting flights. They also committed to put us into hotels after it became clear that the delay would be long. Finally, we arrived in Barbados after 1.00 a.m. the next day and they put us in a guesthouse that sells rooms by the 4 hours. Most did not accept and made their own arrangements. Travelers were not compensated for their missed flights. LIAT had not informed the connecting airlines, so their connecting flights were booked as “no shows”. Travelers had to purchase new tickets at premium prices.

The solution

The Caribbean needs an organisation to protect consumers from maltreatment and it is not too difficult to set up. The CARICOM secretariat would be an excellent medium hereto. They could accept reports by consumers and contact the accused companies. Usually, companies will correct the issue as they don’t wish to damage their reputation, but in extreme cases they should be brought to court.

James Post moved to the Caribbean in June 2000 after a career in marketing management, lastly as CEO. He now owns a small resort in Grenada (www.paradisebayresort.net) and runs a consultancy business (www.internetmarketing-mentor.com)