OWNING a piece of land and house is a dream come true for any family.
Consumers struggle and save every penny for years to make this dream come true.
But there are some unscrupulous traders and service providers out there who tarnish the hope and hard work of vulnerable consumers.
Consumers have been duped for many years.
New cases of fraudulent sale of land have been received by the council recently.
In an unfortunate incident, a land developer conned a consumer into paying him thousands of dollars for land plots he did not legally own.
Consumer Injustice: Fraudulent land sales
Mr Shetty, a school teacher had longed for a home of his own.
He had saved enough to buy a piece of land if he came across a better deal.
He met a 'promising' looking land developer in January 2012 who was selling residential plots, 400 square meters for $5000 each.
After viewing the site, Mr Shetty was satisfied and optimistic that once the land is fully developed, he could call it his "own home".
So he decided to buy the land.
One plot appeared to be too small for Mr Shetty's family so he decided to buy two plots to build a house.
He invested $10,000 being his entire life's savings to make his dream come true.
Ultimately, a Sales and Purchase Agreement was drawn and signed by both parties.
The seller was then expected to develop the land and make it available to Mr Shetty for home construction.
Apparently, this was when the problems began.
As days went by, Mr Shetty waited for the land developer to confirm when the land would be ready for him to start building his house.
Time lapsed and he soon found out that the land developer was not able to furnish the promised plots.
The land developer's reason was that he did not have the finance to further develop the land.
So whose problem was this?
After chasing up with the land developer for a few months, Mr Shetty finally decided to withdraw from the agreement and opted for a refund, which was not easy.
Finally, in May 2012, the land developer agreed to provide a refund within 90 working days.
The refund to be provided within 90 working days did not eventuate and there was no word from the developer.
Mr Shetty made numerous follow-ups with the land developer for the refund but to no avail.
The land developer had started dodging Mr Shetty's calls and avoided scheduled meetings.
Meanwhile, the land developer continued to unscrupulously sell land to other interested buyers who were put through the same ordeal experienced by Mr Shetty.
Until today, Mr Shetty has not been provided with the refund and/or any appropriate redress.
He formally lodged a complaint with the council after the land developer continued to give him the run around.
The council, during its investigations, made numerous attempts to mediate with the land developer so that Mr Shetty could be provided with a refund but all attempts remained unsuccessful.
The case was referred to the Fiji Commerce Commission who took the matter before the High Court and a restraining order was issued to the land developer indefinitely to prevent the land developer from advertising or selling land plots to consumers.
However, Mr Shetty has not been given the refund and/or compensation for the losses he has suffered.
It is unfortunate that consumers such as Mr Shetty have to lose thousands of dollars and undergo stress in trying to secure a future home because of swindlers.
This urgently calls for an effective, cheaper and speedy redressal mechanism that can solely look at the plight of consumers who suffer at the hands of traders and service providers in Fiji.
As such, the Consumer Complaints Tribunal (CCT) and National Consumer Complaints Tribunal (NCCT) as proposed by the Council are vital where appropriate compensation would be awarded to complainants.
Fiji's current consumer protection system lacks the necessary provisions for compensation to aggrieved consumers.
Thus, it is imperative that tougher penalties are imposed to deter unscrupulous traders and service providers from taking advantage of the consumers' positions in the marketplace.
Hence, the establishment of the consumer tribunals will ensure that vulnerable consumers are able to walk away with adequate compensation for their losses and suffering.
* This is a weekly series of articles by the Consumer Council of Fiji in the build-up to World Consumer Rights Day 2013. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.