YOU must read the pre-contractual disclosures before you sign on the dotted line for any loan or credit, says the Consumer Council of Fiji at a press conference yesterday.
Sharing brief notes on the introduction of the AusAID project, 'Consumer Financial Protection and Building Credit Competency for Vulnerable Groups', council chief executive officer Premila Kumar said consumers were always in a rush when dealing with credit institutions for loans or financial assistance.
"They really don't have time to read it and when they do read it, they can't understand the contract," Mrs Kumar said at the event which also marked the launch of a new consumer awareness program, Dollars & Sense on Fiji One.
"We are reminding customers to read their contract before signing because it's a legal obligation.
"We received $270,000 from AusAID to start this project. The government, particularly the Reserve Bank of Fiji has taken on board broader projects at national level. Their focus is on financial literacy and the input that we are giving at the national level is consumer financial protection.
"We started off the debt management and credit advisory services last year and assisted 41 consumers with credit issues.
"We assisted nine consumers by helping to save their home, restructuring their loans and talking to the banks that were kind enough to come on board."
Mrs Kumar said a survey on hire-purchase was conducted and recently published. It looked at critical aspects of the hire-purchase industry and serves as a guide for consumers.
"I feel the financial service is one sector that is neglected unlike other sectors where the consumer is able to see and decide on the product," she said.
"When it comes to financial services, it's so complex — the language is different, there are other fees and charges, and interest rates — and most consumers do not understand the cost of borrowing.
"Another aspect is consumer protection which is very weak. There is a need for a financial commission to look at all these financial services. When you look at VAT collection every year, it signifies the amount of trade — buying and selling — going on yet consumer protection in that area is weak."
Meanwhile, AusAID's first secretary for development co-operation, Timothy Gill said the show Dollars & Sense, which premiered last night on Fiji One, echoed certain aspects of the AusAID program.
"Our program is all about reducing vulnerability in Fiji whether it's providing health services to mother and child, getting the poorest kids to school or creating new income generating opportunities," he said.