By Mavuku Tokona.

The Price Control Bureau (PCB) intends to repeal the antiquated 1974 Price Control Act that was established during the condominium era with the British and the French, and replace it the Price Monitoring and Consumer Affairs Bill.

Price Controller under the PCB within the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, Pacco Siri, mentioned that the new amendment will be more attentive to consumer rights and create a balance in the relationship with traders and consumers as well.

“We developed this amendment making sure we protect both of them (traders and consumers) so that none of these two bodies take advantage of each other,” he said.

With the recent negative feedback by the general public on social media regarding PCB, the Price Controller said that once the old Act is repealed and the new Bill is passed in November, the Bureau will be able to do more for consumers.

“To do a good review it doesn’t take a month or two, we started working on that amendment since 2020, and it’s going to be an amendment and a repeal, we’re going to repeal the Price Control Act and we’re going to put in the new Act, we are really proud of the bill because it is going to make the lives for people in Vanuatu easier,” he said.

Consumers have the Power

Mr. Siri added that parts of the old 1974 Act will be incorporated into the 2022 one as it is still significant to consumers of the 21st of century.

For example, the current 1974 act stipulates in Part 4 of Section 9 Subsection (a)(b)(c) that …

… “Methods of fixing prices If it shall appear as a result of any inquiry undertaken as aforesaid that price control measures should be initiated, the Price Controller shall so inform the Minister who may, after consulting the Prices Advisory Committee in accordance with section 7, make rules –

a) determining the price itself by freezing or fixing;

b) determining a profit margin as a fixed sum or as a percentage; or

c) controlling prices by any other means which may appear suitable.”

This basically means that if a large enough number of people raise concern with the Ministry of Finance regarding a certain product that has been unjustifiably increased, then the Minister responsible can get involved.

“As soon as consumers start to complain about the prices then the government will have to look into that product and then the government can set the price but if there is not too much consumer complaint the government won’t intervene unless they start to complain about the prices then the government will intervene through the Price Control Act,” Price Controller Siri relayed.

The PCB highlighted that the “power is with the consumers” and as responsible consumers they need put their concerns in writing and send it to the Ministry to affect real change.

Law Reform Commission

Law Reform Commission Secretary, Lawson Samuel, mentioned that the Price Monitoring and Consumer Affairs Bill does exactly that, it monitors pricing across the board for items sold in supermarkets.

Mr. Samuel shared that the Law Reform Commission assisted in drafting the issue paper for the new bill and is confident that it will assist the citizens of this country more than the 1974 Act.

What’s the biggest difference between the 1974 act and the current one that hasn’t been tabled yet?

“This draft provides a complaint mechanism, it’s more like a monitoring and not control, for example, if provinces complain about the price of services, then there’s a complaint mechanism, it decentralizes the services of the Price Control Bureau, in the past there was no such mechanism,” the Law Reform Commission Secretary explained.

Overall, Mr. Samuel stated that the new bill is consumer friendly and is ideally structured to cater for the six provinces.