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Consumer Protection Law long overdue

"Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves," says the hopeful English adage.

This wise saying means if you take care of little things one at a time, they can add up to big things.

In Zimbabwe it seems it is the trend that we let those little things pass, we do not seem to care much about the little injustices committed to us, and maybe that is why we end up failing to have big things.

CCZ regional manager Comfort Muchekeza is for the idea that if consumers took their rights seriously, they would be able cut back on some expenses they incur due to unfair dealing from commercial entities.

He says consumers in developing countries are not as prosperous as those from the other developed parts of the globe, who are well aware of their consumer rights and hence know their money's worth.

"Most consumers are oblivious to their rights, therefore we have been lobbying for a law that promotes a fair, efficient and transparent marketplace for consumers and business to promote consumer rights to basic needs," said Muchezeka.

The Government recently drafted a Consumer Protection Bill which must establish the Consumer Protection Commission and CCZ is spearheading public consultations.

This Commission is mandated to promote fair business practices and protect consumers from unreasonable, unjust improper trade practices, deceptive, misleading, unfair and fraudulent conduct.

More often than not, consumers hardly return damaged products from respective sellers, this is mainly born out of fear.

Consumers are reluctant even to return a rotten tomato from a vegetable vendor, they rather throw it was and continue as if nothing had happened and this attitude has made more businesses to be reluctant in emphasising service delivery.

However, CCZ maintains that if consumers are educated on their fundamental consumer rights, which include right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to safety, right to be informed, right to choose, right to to be heard, right to redress and right to consumer education.

No matter how big or small, most businesses are guilty of consumer rights violations, but sadly consumers are unwilling to take that further by seeking redress.

According to the new Government Consumer Protection Bill of 2014, If a consumer has exercised, asserted or sought to uphold any right set out in this Act or in an agreement or transaction with a supplier, the supplier must not, in response— discriminate directly or indirectly against that consumer, compared to the supplier's treatment of any other consumer who has not exercised, asserted or sought to uphold such a right.

"This bill is long overdue and if it can be in place sooner, I think people might take their rights seriously and be aware of them," said one consumer, Dennis Nxumalo.

He said in most cases consumers are reluctant to complain becuase they do not know the extent of their rights when in came to poor goods or services.

"Most businesses abuse consumers in a lot of ways from substandard good to unfairly priced ones and this Bill, if enacted into law, shall go a long way in protecting consumers.

"I am ware that businesses also need protection from us consumers and I expect the Bill to strike a balance," said Nxumalo.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) has pin pointed banks as chief culprits in terms of consumer rights violations, as the country drives towards the alignment of consumer protection laws under the new constitution.

CCZ executive director Rosemary Siyachitema said there is a need for consumers to be protected in the financial sector.

"There are countless violations of rights by banks and there was no way of these issued being dealt with adequately," said Siyachitemba.

Under the old constitution, Siyachitemba said the Consumer Protection law was "a toothless bulldog as it gave the CCZ no power the comprehensively deal with the issues."

Hundreds of clients have been on the receiving end of unfair practices by banks, with the latest being a tussle between AfrAsia Bank Limited, formerly Kingdom Bank in Bulawayo and its as angry depositors.

AfrAsia, which rebranded from Kingdom Bank following a 62,5% share takeover by AfrAsia Bank Mauritius, has been facing operational challenges and is failing to give its clients their deposits.

According to the bank officials, AfrAsia allows a maximum withdrawal of $50 a day while at some times they run out of cash.

The Zimbabwe Bankers Association, however says they have a code of banking practice which provides valuable safeguards for customers and helps them to understand how banks should deal with their customers.
(Inappropriate report?)

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