|Minister of Commerce, Donville Inniss. (FP)|
"An educated consumer and an enlightened business are important factors in ensuring that good business practices, healthy competition and fair prices prevail."
This was underscored by Minister of Commerce, Donville Inniss, as he addressed the Fair Trading Commission’s (FTC) Ninth Annual Lecture at the Accra Beach Resort, last Friday.
In reference to the event’s theme, Competitive Markets – Do They Exist in Small Economies: Can Consumers Really Expect to Benefit? Mr. Inniss observed that changes would be necessary to assure the public received fair prices.
"As we seek to level the playing field in respect of businesses…there are some areas that we must focus on.?? I am concerned over the interlocking relationships, the span of control and influence of some major companies and directors in Barbados, local and foreign owned, and its resultant effect on pricing at the consumer level; the role of the domestic banking fraternity on business development in Barbados and the closed door mentality of some professions in this society… Let us never once believe that strong anti-trust legislation is not needed in Barbados," he said.
Examining the issue in greater detail, the Commerce Minister added that he was equally concerned about the fee setting policies of service providers in this island.?? "I have always had some concerns over legal fees charged in this island for all transactions.?? Perhaps, it is time for the public to be more engaging on these issues," he said, with regards to the pricing structure for medical and legal services.??
In his analysis of businesses, Minister Inniss observed that "there is a growing concern especially among younger members of some professions over the issue of restrictions on advertising their services, and this, too, is a matter that will engage my new Ministry".
Acknowledging that balance was key to providing an ideal environment, he asserted that "We have to be constantly driven by the realisation that businesses exist to make a profit; that consumers want the best deal, and that the state must be the proverbial watchdog, ensuring fairness and equity as far as is possible."
Noting that there was a perception that the FTC focused exclusively on utility regulation, Mr. Inniss pointed out that the agency also had a role to play as an educator.
The issue of fair competition, law and consumer affairs was explored by featured speaker, UK Professor Richard Whish, who offered case studies from small economies, such as Mauritius and Singapore.?? He said: "If we say that competition is a good thing because consumers get the benefit of better prices, better choices and better products, then surely that must apply to consumers everywhere in the world…"
Noting that the positive effects of competition for Barbados was evident with such telecommunications providers as LIME, DIGICEL and FLOW, he said: "Prices are coming down, [and] new products are coming on stream all the time. It seems to me the perfect example of consumers benefitting from competition." He added that in cases where anti-competitive prices were suspected, the FTC had succeeded in resolving the majority of these.