(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 16 September 2014)
This week I was really struggling to get a topic to write about for Consumer Court. It felt to me that everything I have written till thus far about consumer issues was falling on deaf ears. That was until I was stopped on the street by a person I have never met before. The man was driving past me and waved to me, then pulled over, reversed and rolled down his window to talk with me. The first thing he said was, “Thank you for the great job you are doing”. I immediately thought he was referring to the organisation where I work as I was wearing a corporate branded golf shirt. “No”, he continued, “I mean the work you are doing with your weekly consumer column in the newspaper.”
It turns out he has been an avid follower of my articles since I started writing in 2011 and had even used some of the advice to his own monetary advantage. My day was made. I once again felt that through this opportunity of the consumer court column, a difference was being made. So, please next time you get good or excellent service please tell the person or organisation that you appreciate their effort to make you a happy customer.
During my conversation with this stranger, we also touched upon the Consumer Protection Act and what the Ministry of Trade and Industry hopes to achieve with this legislation.
What is consumer protection?
Consumer protection refers to all the laws (and the organisations tasked with consumer issues) that are made to ensure that the rights of consumers as well as fair trade, competition and accurate information about products and services is made available to consumers. The main purpose of such laws is to prevent business that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from getting an advantage over their competitors. They often also include additional protection measures for the most vulnerable members of society. The laws also spell out the consumer complaint procedures that business must follow as well as the punishment they can expect if they do not adhere to these laws. Consumer protection covers a wide range of topics, including but not necessarily limited to product liability, privacy rights, unfair business practices, fraud, misrepresentation, and other consumer/business interactions.
The Consumer Protection Act (which is the current process that the Ministry is involved in), will probably include the following provisions:
· It will promote a fair, accessible and sustainable market place for consumer products and services;
· Establish national norms and standards to ensure adequate consumer protection;
· Give guidelines for improved standards of consumer information that will prohibit unfair marketing or other unfair business practices;
· Encourage responsible consumer behaviour; and
· Establish the National Consumer Commission
The law will also define which other bodies (such as the Competition Commission, NAMFISA, Bank of Namibia) are tasked with specific areas that will not be covered by consumer issues in this law.
It is hoped that the Competition Act will also look at how consumer are represented and how the government will assist these consumer representative bodies (financially, technically, etc.).
I would also like to see that the Namibian law includes a provision for a small claims court that will allow consumers and business with civil issues (differences on who owes whom money), to be able to have legal rulings without the present prohibitive cost that involves legal professionals.
As a consumer activist I must add that I hope the Ministry follows through with this important process and we see this act before the end of 2015.