Saturday, 12 May 2012

Consumer Protection Group advocates for laws to protect buyers




Original Story in the Namibian Newspaper
By: ROB PARKER - Namibian Newspaper

This week The Namibian Consumer spoke to Milton Louw, founder of the Namibia Consumer Protection Group (NCPG) about the activities of his organisation and the biggest issues affecting Namibian consumers today.

You are the founding member of the Namibia Consumer Protection Group? what does this group do? What are your powers? 
The NCPG is a lobby group started in 2009 to provide an information channel to consumer about their rights in Namibia. It focuses on illegal and unethical behaviour by Namibian companies.
The Consumer Charter we promote states all consumers have:
*   The right to basic goods and services which guarantee survival.
*    The right to be protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life.
*   The right to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising or labelling.
*   The right to choose products and services at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality.
*    The right to express consumer interests in the making and execution of government policy.
*   The right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services.
*   The right to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed consumer.
*   The right to live and work in an environment which is neither threatening nor dangerous and which permits a life of dignity and well-being.
It is a volunteer organisation and uses our facebook group to encourage membership. We currently have around 380 members who actively participate. In one of our most successful campaigns regarding the proposed electricity rate increase in 2010, we had over 5 000 electronic signatures to our petition – this can be seen as the non-participating membership. Our database includes information on both groups and allows us to send communications to the complete group of over 5 000.
This Facebook page is also our primary method of information dissemination. In addition, we post articles on our personal blogs as well as regular media updates on issues we believe consumers should know. I am a volunteer also, and act as the executive director. We have no acknowledged legal status in the terms of the law.

South Africa, last year, introduced a comprehensive Consumer Protection Act (CPA), Why do we not have a similar Act in Namibia?
This has been proposed in Namibia and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) is the line Ministry. For the past four or five years the various ministries including Justice, have been working at putting a law in place.

What stage is the Namibian consumer protection Act at? Is it stalled at this stage? What will get it back on track?
Last year they called for tenders to provide the ministry with help in drafting the law. The last time we inquired from MTI was in March 2012 and we have not received feedback on the present status as yet. The Namibian Competition Commission has also been assisting with research into the issue and we hope to soon have feedback on this issue.

What is the role of the public in advocating for legislation to protect consumers?
At present, the public can only complain or make its voice heard via the media. We have no recourse to the law and hope this will be addressed in legislation. I would hope that more journalists in the print and television media would highlight the needs for legislation through showing areas where such protection is lacking. If this issue is not pushed harder, the business community will not voluntary provide the protection required.

What are some of the areas where a lack of consumer protection affects Namibians the most?
The financial services sector is one of the areas we believe needs to work together with NCPG to ensure consumers are fully aware of the implications of the contracts they sign with these service providers. In addition, the housing market in Namibia needs to be better regulated. The problem is not only with a law that needs to be put in place, but also because the estate agents are paralysing the working of the Estate Agents Board - another of the government regulators under the MTI.

Which laws currently protect Namibians from unscrupulous vendors?
There are certain sectors where laws should protect consumers such as is health, medicines, etc but there is no encompassing legislation that will give consumers protection, but also provide the necessary inspectors for the MTI to carry out their work.

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