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The New Consumer Dawn is Upon Us

CORRESPONDENT
You need to hear this! You are a consumer! Business wants your money and patronage. Quite often you are deceived into buying products that you don’t need; sold products that are unsafe; given very little information about goods and services that you purchase and possibly tied to a contract that barely protects your rights as a consumer.

This conceivably paints in heavy strokes the frustration of many a consumer in our community and some have had to accept this as fate. Before one could be furrowed into despair there is a new sheriff in town and he stands on the high altar of consumer rights protection.

Enter the Competition and Consumer Protection Authority

The Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Peggy Serame on Monday December 2 officially commenced a new Authority known as the Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA). The new Authority combines the mandates of the old Competition Authority and the Consumer Protection Unit which used to function under the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry. The merger of the two mandates was the natural thing to do; the whole essence of competition law is to ensure that consumers benefit from the markets and in a word the two mandates are complementary. While consumer protection laws have been part of our laws, the missing ingredient has been enforcement capacity. The transference of this function to the new Authority will give this law the necessary gravitas and not to mention that the Consumer Protection Act (2018) has now been modernised and contains some of the progressive provisions in consumer protection enforcement.

Minister Serame’s commencement action has simultaneously ushered in two other institutions being the Competition and Consumer Authority Board (CCAB) and the Competition and Consumer Tribunal (CCT). The CCAB will be a governance structure while the (CCT) will purely be a specialised competition and consumer court (tribunal) unlike what used to obtain in the previous arrangement where the board was clothed with dual functions of governance and adjudication.

 

Consumer Protection

Consumers are an important facet of any economy yet they are vulnerable. A number of consumer protection provisions are strewn across legislations in various sectors and disciplines. The Consumer Protection Act is a dedicated overarching law that seeks to protect consumers and includes some of the most fascinating provisions that will excite both consumer rights groups and ardent consumer activists alike.

 

Deceptive Advertising

and Pyramid Schemes

Businesses and marketers have often profiteered from deceptive advertising, false and misleading representations which are geared towards luring even the discerning consumer to buy products and services which are inferior to the lofty standards they were made to be.

The Act looks askance at such conduct and largely prohibits a wide array of misrepresentation including the use of bait advertising, force, coercion, undue influence, unfair tactics and others. Deceptive advertising attracts a fine of P50, 000 or a term not exceeding three years, or both.

In the social media era, one of the common businesses propositions that we have all been bombarded with at one point or the other is pyramid scheme. From now on you may have to think long and hard before you click that button to join a pyramid scheme.

The new Act prohibits participation in a pyramid scheme, multiplication scheme and chain letter scheme. For interpretation purposes, the Act defines pyramid scheme as an arrangement or practice where participants in the scheme receive compensation derived primarily from their respective recruitment of other persons as participants, rather than from the sale of any

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goods or services.

The hefty fines and prison terms for participation in a pyramid scheme, multiplication or chain letter scheme should send a spine chilling effect to the would be participants. A person who is found guilty of participation in pyramid scheme is liable to five years.

 

Information on

Goods and Services

Often consumers are denied relevant information to enable them to make right decisions in making appropriate choices or purchases; this could take the form of information on the price of goods, instructions on how to use the goods, warning on risks, the price displayed being different from the price charged at the till, used or reconditioned goods not indicated as such, goods or commodities that are no longer good for use sold as being ‘for sale.’ Upon conviction a fine of P50, 000 or an imprisonment term not exceeding three years is applicable.

In our market, consumers are often confronted by goods that are priced in other currencies, particularly the rand. The law makes it mandatory that the price displayed shall be in Botswana pula.

Upon conviction on this offence the law reaches for the highest fine in the pages of the Act, here a general fine of P500, 000 or imprisonment term not exceeding three years or both shall be applied.

 

Safety and Quality of Goods

The Consumer Protection Act is generally premised on the expectation that a consumer has a right to receive goods that are of good quality, in good working order and free from defects, unless the opposite is clearly disclosed. Perhaps one of the most profound provisions of the Act gives the CCA the power to recall goods, halt production, share information with the public when there is discovery of unsafe goods which do not conform to prescribed safety standards.

 

Unreasonable and Unjust

Contract Terms

Consumers are invariably placed at the rough end of the stick when it comes to contracts. Big business has a tendency of inserting provisions that protect businesses while consumers are saddled with terms that leave them with a great burden.

The new Consumer Protection Act goes out to safeguard the rights of consumers from unfair, unreasonable and unjust contract terms. The law specifically prohibits a supplier from deceiving, depriving a consumer of any right protected under any other law, waiving the supplier’s obligation in terms of any other law, and most importantly the law prohibits businesses from exempting their liability for any loss associated with the consumption of goods and services.

 

Collaborations

The advent of the CCA and in particular the introduction of a modern and enforceable consumer protection law is bound to elicit a lot of interest and excitement across the consumer space.

However, we should be under no illusion that the presence of the law will be a magic wand that will vanish all the consumer abuses that have defined the consumer terrain over the years. There have to be active collaborations amongst the CCA, consumer groups, professional bodies, other regulators, the media and the public in order to roll back the heavy stone of consumer exploitation.

* Gideon Nkala is the Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations at the Competition and Consumer Authority



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