Consumers in Fiji are not well protected under current laws, which need to be overhauled, Fiji Consumer Council Chief Executive Premila Kumar said.
“There is very little legal redress,” she said.
She believes Fiji consumers are too shy to be assertive about their rights.
“They are the ones with the money, so they hold the advantage.”
Ms Kumar and her Council have been the driving force behind a rising number consumers who have had justice rendered.
“The legal foundations for Consumer Rights have improved under Fiji’s current Government. We are better protected now than ever before,” she said.
The Council is working on strategies to improve consumer protection in the financial services sector.
“The Reserve Bank of Fiji concentrates only on prudential matters and is more worried about the collapse of banks than about the human beings caught up in collapse,” she said.
Ms Kumar said the Council had also had concerns over the legal system.
“Among the constant complaints is the exorbitant fees charged by lawyers and keeping files for up to 10 years.
“We wrote to the Fiji Law Society (FLS) but they did not respond,” she said.
The Council began investigating consumer complaints against lawyers.
Mr Kumar cited a complaint that her Council received in 2009 against prominent Nadi lawyer Doorsami Naidu, who was at that time President of FLS.
“We therefore took up the matter directly with the Justice Minister. Following a trial, the Independent Legal Services Commission found Mr Naidu guilty of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” and professional misconduct.”
“We were seen as the culprit and there was a backlash from lawyers. But we had the Government on our side,” Ms Kumar said.
Government funding for the Council was small but donations from other sources were helpful, she said.
“We work with the Consumers Association, Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy (ECREA), the Commerce Commission, several Government agencies and the media. Our long-term goal is to strengthen consumer awareness and protection at the regional level. It would be good to gain regional momentum on the issue of consumer protection and work collectively in the Pacific region,” Ms Kumar said.
Regional bodies such as the Forum Secretariat and South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) were assisting the business community but not consumers, she added.
The above report, written by Sherita Sharma and Sheenal Sharma, students of the University of South Pacific, appeared in Wansolwara, a ‘Training Newspaper’ produced by the students of the Institution.