Reference is made to your editorial entitled ‘Obstacles to consumer rights’ (February 6). The Consumer Association Malta would like to voice its concern about the current state of affairs in so far as compliance with competition law is concerned. 

Effectively, following various court judgments the competition office within the MCCAA, has been rendered impotent. This has been the case since the May 2016 Federation of Estate Agents judgment by the Constitutional Court. 

The association considers such a state of affairs as unacceptable. Certainly we should not depend on the goodwill of the business community to abide by the applicable laws. 

While most members of the business community are law-abiding persons, regrettably there will always be those few who are prepared to flout the law to make a quick buck. 

The current situation, if anything, offers an opportunity for the unscrupulous few to make capital of an impotent Competition Office to the detriment of consumers and honest businessmen alike. 

In your editorial you suggest that the authorities should resort to naming and shaming those who flout the law. 

We believe that following the recent court judgments, even resorting to such a measure may be challenged given that doubts have also been raised as to whether the Competition Office can actually investigate, let alone impose fines on allegedly non-compliant businesses. 

The association has for the past two years been strongly advocating with the government to remedy matters in short order, including directly voicing its concerns with the responsible authorities, but regrettably to date to no avail. The association believes that the way forward is to amend article 39(1) of the Constitution to remove any anomalies that there may be. 

In doing so two cardinal principles must be observed – one that the Competition Office has adequate powers to impose sanctions in short order, including the imposition of dissuasive fines, and second that the exercise of such powers is exercised without prejudice to the right of the alleged non-compliant business to contest any regulatory decisions, including sanctions, before an independent adjudicative forum without however undermining effective compliance with the law. 

We trust that the competent authorities will finally take the necessary remedial measures. Otherwise Malta runs the risk of having a free-for-all market environment with cowboys who at will can act in breach of law knowing that no effective regulatory action can be taken against them.

The Association will continue to lobby so that this problem is solved once and for all as soon as possible.

 

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