The enactment of the Consumer Protection Act in 2019 brought hope of an end to the era of flagrant disregard of consumer rights and unfair business practices. Earlier this year, Industry and Commerce Minister Sekai Nzenza appointed seven members of the Consumer Protection Commission led by customer relations expert Dr Mthokozisi Nkosi (MN) to implement the Act. The Sunday Mail’s Debra Matabvu (DM) spoke to CPC chairperson who gave insight into the Commission’s work.
DM: What is the Consumer Protection Commission?
MN: The Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) is a consumer protection organisation formed in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (Chapter 14:44 of 2019).
The Commission operates as an implementation mechanism of the Act in line with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce’s mandate.
DM: What is the CPC’s mandate?
MN: The Commission’s mandate is to protect the consumers, regulate the accreditation of consumer protection advocacy groups, conduct alternative dispute resolution, and promote consumer awareness in collaboration with the requisite line Ministries, Government departments, institutions and advocacy groups.
The CPC is charged with the responsibility to enforce and carry out the functions assigned to it in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
The CPA seeks to promote a fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services and for that purpose, to establish national norms and standards relating to consumer protection.
It further seeks to provide for improved standards of consumer information, to prohibit certain unfair marketing and business practices, provide for the regulation of consumer advocacy organisations and to promote a consistent legislative and enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements.
DM: Why does Zimbabwe need a Consumer Protection Commission?
MN: Prior to the enactment of the CPA in 2019, Zimbabwe lagged behind other international jurisdictions in protecting its consumers.
The global and domestic trading environment has changed significantly over time.
Markets have opened up and there has been a significant increase in the movement of people, goods and services across borders.
Scams and unfair practices, on the other hand, have become more sophisticated.
In implementing the consumer protection framework, Zimbabwe is creating an environment where a culture of consumer rights and responsibilities prevail.
Such an environment is not only beneficial to consumers, but to business as well.
The enforcement of the CPA assists in regulating the conduct of suppliers of goods and or services to consumers. If left unchecked, unethical traders will merely serve to hinder the creation of a fair, competitive and equitable environment for all.
Consumer protection is an integral part of a modern, efficient, effective and just market place.
Confident consumers are an important driver of industry competitiveness.
By demanding competitive prices, improved product quality and better service, consumers provide an impetus for innovation and enhanced performance by business.
This is important for the attainment of the 2030 upper middle-income economy vision pronounced by President Mnangagwa.
DM: Which critical sectors of the economy does the law specifically target?
MN: The Commission’s mandate covers all goods, services and unfair trade practices across sectors whether private or public unless specifically exempted by the Government.
As regards the retail sector, the Commission is working with stakeholders to ensure that the law addresses the following key areas:
Sale of goods — regulating the sale of goods. Goods must be of satisfactory quality with no defects; must be safe, durable and fit for purpose; match their description and match the size and weight on the package.
Trade description — goods must be advertised accurately and not misleading or false. This includes contents, packaging, price and promotion.
Weights and measures — It is illegal to sell goods that are not the weight or measure stated on the packaging.
Food and drugs — Food must be accurately labelled with a list of ingredients, best by dates among other things. Some colourings and preservatives are banned and must not be used.
Food safety — This ensures that businesses do not sell food unfit for people to eat; sell food that is not what people expect in terms of content and quality; and describe or present food in a way that is false or misleading.
DM: How is the CPC different from other consumer watchdogs such as the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe?
MN: CPC plays an over-arching and cross-cutting role over a number of consumer protection organisations which include regulatory bodies, consumer lobby and interest organisations.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) is a registered Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO).
It is a consumer watchdog which has over the years been spearheading awareness campaigns on consumer rights among other things.
The organisation enjoyed funding through a Government grant awarded to it annually through the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
However, the new Consumer Protection Act gave birth to the Consumer Protection Commission which has now taken over the oversight role of consumer protection in the country. The CCZ will now be assuming a new role.
It will soon be designated as one of the consumer protection organisations for purposes of conducting conciliation and arbitration of disputes between parties.
DM: How does the ordinary man benefit from the Commission?
MN: The necessity of adopting measures to protect the interests of consumers arises mainly due to the helpless position of the consumers.
On a daily basis consumers are subjected to unfair trading practices, misleading and deceptive advertisements, spiralling prices, adulteration, poor quality products, deceptive packing, underweight supplies and deficiency in service across sectors.
The Commission will not allow a situation where the consumer is misled, cheated, duped and exploited on a routine basis.
We want every consumer to feel welcome, respected, special and valued each time they interact with a service provider.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe like many other developing countries have unorganised and ignorant consumers who are widely exploited by service providers.
In other instances, as service providers seek to maximise returns on their investments, the temptation to be involved in deceptive acts and practices (an act by a producer, manufacturer, supplier or seller, which occurred before, during or after the transaction, through concealment, false representation of fraudulent manipulation, which induces a consumer to enter into a sales or lease transaction of any consumer product or service), unfair or unconscionable sales acts or practices (an act by the producer, manufacturer, distributor, supplier or seller, which occurred before, during or after the transaction, by taking advantage of the consumer’s physical or mental infirmity, ignorance, illiteracy, lack of time or the general conditions of the environment or surroundings, induces the consumer to enter into a sales or lease transaction grossly inimical to the interests of the consumer or grossly one-sided in favour of the producer, manufacturer, distributor, supplier or seller) is high.
It is in these instances that the Commission comes in handy to protect the consumers.
The Commission ensures that consumers are protected from abuse, they have an avenue for grievance redress and assured improved quality of products and services.
This is achieved through encouragement of the formation and empowering of powerful sectorial consumer organisations and advocacy groups, consumer protection agencies and massive consumer rights and redress mechanisms awareness campaigns.
The law will take its course in punishing service providers who go astray.
The Act is clear on how offenders will be punished.
DM: Since inception, how far have you gone in putting in place the redress mechanism?
MN: The Commission is currently working with the Attorney General’s office on regulations covering different sectors of the economy.
In addition, we are also in discussion with the Judicial Services Commission for specialised consumer courts. Very soon the exercise will be complete.
The days of moral suasion in solving consumer disputes are over.
We expect service providers to do the right things.
Consumers have suffered enough abuse.