Legal reforms set to ban pyramid selling schemes


Tribune Business Reporter

The Prime Minister yesterday unveiled plans to strengthen protections for Bahamian consumers through legal reforms that will ban "pyramid selling schemes" and allow regulators to issue warning notices over "harmful business practices".

Philip Davis KC, addressing the House of Assembly, said the Consumer Protection Bill 2023 will "enhance the rights of consumers across our country" by replacing existing legislation with a regulatory framework fit for the digital era in which an increasing number of transactions are conducted online.

"The Bill includes stringent provisions against misleading and deceptive conduct, harassment and coercion. We want to create a marketplace where consumers can engage with confidence and without fear," he said. "A critical aspect of the Bill is the restriction of pyramid selling, and the obligation for businesses to state the full costs of goods or services. These measures will help ensure that consumers are not exploited or deceived."

So-called pyramid schemes, whose founders and promoters often exploit them to perpetrate financial frauds in unsuspecting victims, rely on drawing in persons who, in turn, recruit an ever-increasing number of "investors" in return for the promise of receiving goods and services. The proposed Bill simply states: "No person shall promote or operate a pyramid selling scheme."

Mr Davis yesterday argued that the Bill's enhanced safeguards are critical to promoting a Bahamian economy founded on the principles of honesty and integrity, with increased trust between businesses and consumers. He added that its provisions will also foster fair commerce, and help create an environment of competition and innovation where all firms and entrepreneurs compete on a level playing field.

"This Bill is for all Bahamians - from the young mother budgeting for her family’s groceries to the retiree investing his hard-earned money in a new home appliance. Our individual households, our communities, and our economy depend on the integrity and fairness of trade," the Prime Minister asserted.

"In an era of digital transactions, global markets and rapidly evolving consumer needs and products, it's time for us to strengthen our laws to adapt - and to better protect - the interests of Bahamian consumers.” He also suggested that stronger consumer protections are critical to reducing poverty and enhancing economic development.

"Our economic growth depends upon a market which encourages healthy competition, drives innovation and ensures customer satisfaction. At the heart of this new Consumer Protection Bill is a commitment to restructuring and reorganising the existing provisions for better clarity and comprehension," Mr Davis said.

“Our focus on transparency supports a market environment in which all players, big and small, can operate, grow and prosper in a manner that is regulated and fair..... The proposed legislation also empowers the Consumer Commission to issue advisory notices in situations where harmful practices to consumers are identified. We believe these notices will serve as a valuable tool in preventing harmful business practices and educating consumers about potential risks."

Under the new Bill, consumers will be able to make complaints against unfair business practices while outside The Bahamas. Mr Davis added: “In a world that is increasingly digital, we recognise the need to streamline processes and make it easier for consumers to give evidence. To this end, the Bill includes provisions to allow for virtual testimony, which will expedite investigations and support convenience for consumers.

"A significant change under the new Bill is the mandatory licensing and registration of providers. Failure to comply will result in penalties, encouraging businesses to operate within the boundaries of law and promoting a culture of accountability.

"As we continue to usher The Bahamas into the digital age, this Bill also enhances our ability to oversee distance selling and payment arrangements. With the growth of online commerce, it's vital that we maintain robust checks and balances, ensuring that every transaction is fair and transparent," Mr Davis continued.

"Additionally, the Bill expands on the powers of the minister to make necessary regulations to protect consumers effectively. This is crucial as it provides us with the flexibility to adapt and respond swiftly to emerging challenges and opportunities in the marketplace.

"The enactment of this Bill signals a significant shift in our approach to consumer protection. We are aiming for an inclusive economy where everyone has access to safe, quality goods and services at a fair price."

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