Hearings Continue on Bill Forcing Restaurants to Play Fair

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company, the Association of Restaurants of Puerto Rico, and the United Retailers Center testified on Thursday in the latest round of public hearings regarding Senate Bill 1557, which seeks to ban restaurants from the practice of charging service charges to consumers, in addition to the food fare and tips.


Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Luis Daniel Rivera Filomeno

The bill, known as “Law for Sales Receipt Transparency” proposes banning commercial establishments from billing for services that are uncorroborated.

“This proposed bill comes from claims by the consumers themselves who have expressed opposition to the practice by some restaurants of imposing a service charge of up to 17%, without specifying which additional services are included in that charge,” said Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Luis Daniel Rivera Filomeno, who heads the upper chamber’s Labor Relations, Consumer Affairs and Employment Creation Committee. “What’s more, the fact that the charge is mandatory, instead of optional, turns the consumer into a hostage of that establishment.”

The measure states that the Department of Consumers Affairs (DACO for its acronym in Spanish) would be the agency tasked with implementing the resulting law, including levying a fine of $5,000 for each infraction.

While in a recent public hearing the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, through its interim president Héctor Mayol, opposed the measure, DACO officials favored the bill.


Senate Hearings to Reveal DACO’s Most Fined Companies

SAN JUAN – The Senate Labor Relations, Consumer Affairs and Job Creation Committee will reveal which companies are the most fined by the Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym).

DACO officials have been cited to testify Wednesday at public hearings and were requested to provide relevant information regarding the companies that have been fined the most for violating regulations that defend consumers.

“In the committee’s current process, we have addressed the issue of dual pricing of gasoline, as well as the drop in international oil prices, the rise in prescription drugs and additional payment alternatives other than cash,” Sen. Luis Rivera Filomeno said in a statement.

He added, “This time, we will identify the most common violations to DACO regulations that defend consumers. With this information we can establish a plan to work on and submit legislation or amendments to existing laws, if necessary.

“A very important part of this process is that consumers are well-informed of their rights and not wait until they are granted. People should know their rights and demand them. To the extent that the public is informed and has that power, you will find companies and businesses respecting them.”

Statistics Institute Approves Resolution Ordering DACO to publish gasoline wholesaler prices

The Puerto Rico Statistics Institute’s (PRSI) board and Executive Director Mario Marazzi-Santiago announced Wednesday the approval of a resolution that orders the Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym) to reinitiate the daily publication of local gasoline wholesalers’ prevailing prices in its own website.

The resolution also demands DACO to send said information to the PRSI on a regular basis to assure the update of the data contained in the Statistics Inventory of Puerto Rico for the island’s energy sector and the general public as well.

For several years, DACO compiled the retail price of gasoline, as provided by each gasoline wholesaler in compliance with Price Regulation No. 45. As a result, DACO was releasing this information on a daily basis through its statistical report, “Prevailing Prices of Gasoline Wholesalers.”

However, on July 10, 2015, DACO made the decision to stop publishing the information.

“The non-release of the Prevailing Prices of Gasoline Wholesalers that DACO compiles allows wholesalers to sell their gasoline to various retailers at different prices, which is against the best interest of consumers,” PRSI’s Resolution No. 2016-01, dated Jan. 19, reads, subscribed by both its board and Marazzi.

On Sept. 18, 2015, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla signed into law Act 154 of 2015, which amends the PRSI’s organic law to require all government organizations to send the institute any statistical publication, so that these be incorporated in the Statistics Inventory and available to everyone.

The Prevailing Prices of Gasoline Wholesalers report was sent to the PRSI through its subscription service nearly 60,000 times during fiscal year 2015, the highest number of reports sent through the system.

If needed, the PRSI indicated it could use the provisions contained in Articles 4, 5, 6 and 17 of its organic law (Act 209 of 2003, as amended) including administrative fines, among others, to enforce compliance of the dispositions contained in the document.

By José L. Carmona

Senator Believes Local Gas Prices to Drop Following Public Hearings

SAN JUAN – Gasoline prices in Puerto Rico should drop, and continue to do so, in the immediate future, after gasoline retailers asserted Tuesday that wholesalers had lowered their prices by 8 cents following the announcement of a public hearing process to investigate gas prices on the island, said Sen. Luis Rivera Filomeno, chair of the Senate Labor Relations, Consumer Affairs & Job Creation Committee.

For the senator, “it shows that if the price of a barrel of oil falls, gasoline must be proportionally lower.” The Senate committee’s hearing process is aimed at discussing the Consumer Affairs Department’s (DACO by its Spanish acronym) audit of gas prices on the island in the context of the low price of oil, currently at roughly $30 a barrel.

Rivera said he would not hesitate to introduce legislation, if necessary, to ensure both retailers and wholesalers are charging gas prices that adequately reflect oil’s current prices.

Among those who have already participated in the hearing process are DACO and the Puerto Rico Gasoline Retailers Association. Meanwhile, wholesalers are expected to testify in the next days, after asking the committee for additional time to do so.

With the committee’s investigation, Rivera wants to ensure that savings resulting from low oil prices globally reach consumers’ pockets, and don’t stay among gas retailers and wholesalers.

By Luis Valentín

DACO Blasted for not Publishing Wholesale Gasoline Prices

SAN JUAN – The president of the Gasoline Retailers Association, Luis Sepúlveda, accused the Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym) of abandoning the practice of publishing the gasoline price imposed by wholesalers.

Sepúlveda said that due to the action, retailers decided to conduct a survey to publish the price of gasoline themselves.

“I guess [DACO] got a lot of pressure from wholesalers,” Sepúlveda said in a WSKN-radio interview, noting that the prices had not been published since June.

He said that, “at that time, the liter went up one cent, and as soon as we organized ourselves and published the price, it dropped a penny.”

DACO Secretary Nery Adames denied it was the wholesalers and said it was Antitrust Affairs Office advisers who presented an objection to the practice.

“We took down that page because the Antitrust Affairs Office said it was not a good practice to be showing the prices of wholesale competitors,” Adames explained, while assuring that, “because of that advice, guidance and consulting from the Antitrust Affairs Office, DACO took the information from the webpage down.”

Adames said consumers are not interested in knowing the pricing between wholesalers and instead “care about at how much retailers are selling,” adding that DACO provides that information on its website.

By Inter News Service