A recent study has shown that consumers have sometimes been short changed when shopping in supermarkets and markets, while businesses were found to have underpriced items in other instances.
However, Minister of Energy and Business Development, Kerrie Symmonds does not believe situations in which customers received less than they paid for were generally intentional.
He spoke about the study conducted by the Barbados National Standards Institute (BNSI), which highlighted several instances of consumers either overpaying or underpaying for goods at several businesses, supermarkets and markets across the island, as he led off debate in the House of Assembly on the Barbados Metrology Bill, 2022 on Tuesday.
He said the BNSI checked several products including sugar, bottled water, weighed food, potatoes, chicken and fish.
In one case, a fish vendor gave a customer more than two pounds less fish than what was paid for.
“This kind of thing can happen by mistake, but let us try to eradicate the mistakes and, for heaven’s sake, let us make sure that it does not happen by design, because in every instance where we have a consumer buying a product at a fixed price and then getting a product that is 103 or 104 grammes difference then that consumer has been disadvantaged,” Symmonds said.
“The cost of living for that consumer is already high and that consumer out-of-pocket is significant and that comes at a personal consequence for the consumer and the consumer’s family. The consumer’s disposable income is not inelastic,” he stressed.
However, the Minister said he did not believe it was deliberate on the part of the businesses as there were clear instances where consumers were getting more than they paid for.
“There is a clear case of chaos in the private sector with regard to how these matters are dealt with. I do not attribute . . . mischief and malice in this because in some cases the private enterprises are working to their own detriment.
“But what is clear that is failing to happen is that you do not have properly calibrated instruments of measurement and that in some instances it works to the detriment of the business person because he is selling something and thinking he is getting ‘x’ amount of money for it when really and truly he is shorting himself and putting himself at a disadvantage position,” Symmonds said.
He maintained that the calibration of instruments was therefore critical to ensuring fairness to all parties.
Symmonds said the new legislation would strengthen the power of the consumer and the ability of the State to protect the consumer, prevent the seepage of money, and address economic inefficiencies.
However, he said the Bill would be “postponed for further consideration” as he believed it raised issues that consumers and the business sector would “want to have a say in”.
The Minister said while there have already been preliminary consultations, further discussions would take place with stakeholders, including the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs, the Small Business Association, the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Barbados Private Sector Association.
Symmonds also disclosed that a National Quality Policy would be created to “build out standards of operation and standards of service across Barbados.”