The Sunday Mail
Prof Zororo Muranda
IN many cases, we have seen disclaimers such as “no return” or “no refund” on entrances of mostly small-scale retailers.
If you later discover the product you bought is not performing as expected or it is a wrong size and try to exchange it or get a refund, they will simply refer to the notice.
Some display a price for a particular product on the shelf but charge a different one at the till, while others do not even display the prices.
They charge different consumers differently depending on how desperate or how informed the consumer is. For durable goods, many retailers do not even honour the prescribed guarantee conditions. If a product with six months guarantee malfunctions, even less than a month of purchasing it, they will ask the customer to have the product fixed at their own expense or simply tell them that it is the responsibility of the manufacturer.
They act in this way yet they are the ones who are distributing or importing that particular product on behalf of the said manufacturer.
It is against this background that Government, through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, established the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC).
The work of the commission will go a long way in addressing malpractices in the market, as well as help in the achievement of the country’s vision of becoming a prosperous and empowered upper middle-income economy by 2023. The commission was established following the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act (Chapter 14:44) to ensure protection of consumers of goods and services by ensuring a fair, efficient and transparent market.
The Act is administered by the Industry and Commerce minister. The commission is financed through the national Budget.
A board of commissioners drawn from relevant sectors of the economy oversees its operations, with the day-to-day operations undertaken by a secretariat headed by a chief executive officer.
Establishment of the CPC was a great milestone by the Second Republic in the protection and promotion of the interests of consumers.
Looking at global trends, consumerism has led to many organisations improving their customer service, which is a key aspect in achieving an upper middle-income economy by 2030.
Consumerism is not a new phenomenon in the country since it dates back to the early 1950s, through the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe. However, it was voluntary in the sense that there was no law to back it up until the promulgation of the Consumer Protection Act.
With the Act now in place, it is no longer discretionary for businesses to provide quality service but mandatory. Consumer rights are explicitly stated in the Act.
There are 38 rights and mechanisms in the Act, which all seek to protect consumers from unfair business practices by manufacturers, distributors, retailers and other service providers.
Some of them are:
Right to consumer education and awareness
Right to fair value, good quality and safety of goods and services
Right to implied warranty of quality
Right to warranty on repaired goods
Right to warning concerning fact and nature of risks
Right to choose and choice of goods or services
Right to cancel advance reservation, booking or order
Right to return goods
Right to cooling-off period after direct marketing
With the CPC now fully operational, as all responsible managers have been recruited, work is starting without further delay in the coming weeks. A programme is already in place to cover all corners of the country to educate consumers on their rights and how they can seek redress.
On the other hand, business will be engaged and educated on the need to promote ethical practices. Education and awareness will be done through the print and electronic media, as well as social media platforms.
Informed consumers cannot be easily deprived of their rights. That is why the commission and its partners have set national awareness campaigns as a project for the first 100 days of the year, under the Office of the President and Cabinet, together with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
The commission receives complaints from all sectors of the economy whenever a consumer feels their rights have been violated.
This is a huge obligation because of the sheer number of complaints coming in as people start to learn about their rights and also, as businesses are yet to fully incorporate the expectations of the Act in their day-to-day operations. To help in propagating provisions of the Act, the commission is currently engaging all regulators in the country.
This will ensure effective collaboration with these sectorial regulators such as the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority and the Insurance and Pensions Commission.
The terms of reference for these collaborations will be done through memorandums of understanding.
Prof Zororo Muranda is the chief executive officer of the Consumer Protection Commission