A new law has kicked into effect which will impose stiff fines and even jail terms for various acts of false advertising and other schemes to trick consumers, BusinessWeek has established.
The new law will see the Consumer Protection Unit merging into the Competition Authority, empowered by an Act signed by President Ian Khama on his last day in office.
Individual consumers and consumer groups will be entitled to report false advertising and other trickery to the Competition and Consumer Authority, which will have the power to enforce the penalties. The Authority has the power to search, seize products and conduct tests where necessary to determine performance, quality and safety.
“The laws (consumer and competition acts) have been gazetted and assented to and what’s left is the notice of commencement from the Minister,” the Competition Authority’s spokesperson, Gideon Nkala told BusinessWeek on Wednesday.
“Once the commencement notice has been issued, the consumer protection and the competition functions will now be housed under the Competition and Consumer Protection Authority.” Investment, Trade and Industry minister, Bogolo Kenewendo was unreachable for comment.
The new Consumer Protection Act will impose fines of P50,000 and or three-year jail terms for suppliers found guilty of false representations in their marketing of goods and services. Offences include falsely representing that goods are of a particular standard or quality, that they have certain sponsorship or approval or that they are available or can be delivered within a certain time.
Falsely representing the price of goods or their origin is also an offence. Consumers will also cheer news that all goods in Botswana, under the new law, must be priced in pula and that consumers, by law, must only pay for the price advertised and not any other they are informed about at the till.
“A supplier shall not charge a consumer more than the price indicated or displayed
“A supplier shall not display goods or services without displaying the price of the goods or services,” the new Act reads.
The new Act also tightens safety and quality standards, making suppliers more accountable for the goods they offer to the public.
“A supplier shall not supply or offer to supply goods which do not conform to the mandatory safety standards for the class of goods set by the Botswana Bureau of Standards or other international bodies recognised by the Botswana Bureau of Standards,” reads the law.
When violations occur, the new Authority is empowered to recall goods, halt production or import, warn the public and direct the supplier to replace the goods, refund any consumers or compensate consumers for any damage suffered from using the unsafe goods.
Because no specific fines or sentences are ascribed for unsafe goods, they fall under the general penalty where the Authority may seek a maximum fine of P500,000 and/or jail terms of three years for directors.
Consumers have long railed against the existing consumer protection statutes, policies and institutions, saying these were ineffective particularly in the face of aggressive corporates and sophisticated trading schemes.
Leading consumer rights lobbyist, Richard Harriman welcomed the new legislation, saying the previous statutes were “far too weak”.
“We consumers deserve protection against lies, deceptions and exaggerations in the advertisements that bombard us.
“Regarding penalties, I hope we can see a wide range and not just the financial ones. We need to see companies that publish false advertisements being forced to retract them, apologise and to make amends for any misunderstanding they’ve created. And I also hope we can make the financial penalties hurt!”