The law is a critical element for an orderly and productive society. However, legislation should not be rushed though Parliament or drafted on a whim because of perceived injustices. Yet, a Bill called The Standards Act, 2004 recently passed in The House of Assembly to much fanfare, is just that.
A review of similar legislation passed in other countries in the region indicates that standards laws apply to goods manufactured or agricultural products grown in those countries. However, in The Bahamas, the Act not only applies to commodities, but it covers ‘processes, services and practices’. In other words, not only will goods manufactured or grown here have to meet certain standards, all businesses covered under separate and distinct legislation, like doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers etc will now be subject to the contents of this Act.
As usual there is no mechanism to remove existing legislation that serves similar purposes that might reside under the domain of other government Ministries, so one can only imagine the confusion created by the battling ego’s of the various Ministers.
Of course, during the Parliamentary debate, the politicians sold themselves as saviours of mankind who will take care of all of the problems that are faced by Bahamians from day to day with the implementation of The Standards Act, 2004. Unfortunately, in their zeal they have confused standards for manufacturing and agriculture with consumer protection.
Overlooked is the obvious fact that in acting in their self-interest individuals will purchase goods and services that suit their needs or where they believe they can get the best deal. Legislation like The Standards Act, 2004, will not change this. Enforcement of existing laws against fraud is a better use of Government powers and there is no need for another bureaucracy.
There is no mention of international standards that are used to ship goods all over the world. There is a standard mark that will have to be applied to all goods and supposedly services, which will obviously create havoc at the airport and docks when the Customs officers have to inspect all goods being imported to ensure they comply with Bahamian Standards.
It is also necessary to clarify if all imported goods will have to bear the referenced Bahamian mark. If this is the case, it will certainly add to the already high cost of goods in The Bahamas.
Application of the Bill.
If consumer protection is the issue, it ought not be confused with “standards” as applied to “processes, services and practices” and incorporated into a Standards Bill.
The net effect of The Standards Act is to place unlimited power in the hands of the Minister to decide what Standards will be adhered to and frankly it can be used as a weapon of victimisation the way it is presently worded.
A Plea to Review The Standards Act, 2004.
This legislation should be withdrawn for further review by the Government and Parliament before it is allowed to proceed to the Senate and then ultimately into law. A proper consultation process should be followed where some thought is given to the economic consequences of the Bill. Additionally, the content of the Bill should not be left to interpretation. English is a language that can be very specific and the vagueness of this legislation is frightening and should be corrected.
Finally, good intentions are not enough to pass legislation. Parliamentarians would do better passing their time complying with the requirements of The Bahamas Constitution.