‘Consumers should demand their rights’

Lilongwe, Human beings, as experts believe need to enjoy four basic rights which they should demand from service providers and traders every time they have dealings with them.

Right to safety, choose, access to information and to be heard remain fundamental for the survival of every individual hence the need to demand them.

Rights movement have dominated the modern world especially when different organizations and nations worldwide started demanding their rights to freedom starting from late 1950s into 1960s when most African countries alongside black Americans woke from a slumber to demand their freedoms which they felt were being deprived .

As time goes on with different innovations coming up, people have come to realize how much they are entitled to their rights. This is against a background that service providers and traders seem to fail to come to terms with the rights their consumers are supposed to enjoy. The coming in of digital age as well has come with other challenges which consumers are subjected to.

Subsequently the Competition and Fair Trading Commission alongside the Consumers Association of Malawi realized the need to intensify awareness on the emerging challenges especially in relation to digital.

Coincidentally this year’s International Consumer Rights theme ‘Consumer Right in a Digital Age’ has also been tilted towards digital operations which the Executive Director of Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC), Wezi Malonda described, as being very relevant to the local scenario.

She said the country has taken a fair share in the consumption of digital products and services which has resulted in consumers experiencing a number of challenges such as being offered substandard digital gadgets, weak television signals, slow internet connections and information asymmetry between service providers and consumers.

“Over 55 per cent of the country’s households have cell phones, a clear indicator that there are many consumers who need to demand their rights to quality services and products,” Malonda explained

To this effect, she encouraged consumers during this year’s commemoration which falls on March 15 every year to demand what belongs to them and never allow service providers and traders continue abusing them through their poor services and low quality products.

“The technological advancements are redefining people’s lives in many ways, it is therefore disheartening to note that clients are not getting a fair share of both services and commodities in the country,” Malonda noted.

Commentators have recently pointed out many short falls in various digital operations such as telecommunication, online marketing, electronics, media communication, banking among others.

Banking, media communication and telecommunication have clearly come out as the most challenging areas affecting people’s daily lives.

Under telecommunication consumers have witnessed service providers running promotion with a raffle draw to be conducted and prizes to be given out but never takes place, unwarranted and exploitative charges for mobile money services are among the things of great concern in the country.

Fake news especially in social media, misleading advertising and misrepresentation of products, unethical and immoral adverts has dominated media and communication in the digital world.

In the banking sector, consumers in the country fail to access financial services due to connectivity problems while at the same time suffering addition charges when using facilities provided by the bank such as Post of Sale (POS), Auto-teller Machines (ATM) among others.

However, an assurance from CFTC during this year’s commemoration of Consumer Rights Day came as a relief to many consumers in the country who have suffered enough from unfair trading from service providers and traders.

“The Commission endeavors to promote consumer protection through unfair trading practices which are prohibited under the competition and fair trading and consumer protection statutes”, Malonda added.

Through the intervention of CFTC, according to information sourced from commission, many consumers have enjoyed total refund of money on defective, substandard or services not enjoyed by the consumer. Other service providers have been ordered to activate accounts of their consumers immediately subscription is paid.

In addition to that, other consumers have been compensated for the violation suffered as a result of suppliers (traders) negligence.

It was also disclosed during the commemoration that as one way of addressing challenges in the telecommunications sector, the commission has entered into mutual cooperation agreement with the country’s communication regulator, The Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) so that coordinated efforts are made in promoting competitive outcomes among all players which will ultimately prevent consumer rights violation.

“I should urge all consumers in the country to report any violation of their rights including abuse of market power by any service provider to assist the commission undertake proper investigation for the necessary remedial measures in collaboration with MACRA”, said the CEO, adding that unfair trading practices adversely disadvantage consumers on the market.

MACRA Public Relations Manager Clara Mwafulirwa conceded that the authority was aware that some service providers in the sector are depriving consumers their rights by among other things offering poor services to their clients.

She was quick to point out all complaints that reach the authority are always, with urgent attention, taken up with relevant service providers which one way or the other assisted in improving service delivery be it telecommunication, radio broadcasting or television.

“However I must clearly indicate that we entirely depend on consumers to let us know the challenges they are facing otherwise it is difficult to know some of the shortfalls the consumers are complaining of,” Mwafulirwa pointed out.

To Smith Chimtengo, irregular delivery of services and supply of substandard products on the market has never been, until March 15,2017, an issue because he has always believed that is how it should be and nobody is overseeing the delivery of these services in the country.

He told MANA on the sidelines of the commemoration which was conducted at the capital city’s biggest shopping mall, that there are many people around who are yet to be reached with consumer rights information.

“We are being hit from left to right by these unscrupulous traders taking advantage of our ignorance on consumer rights. There is need for the relevant bodies to intensify awareness otherwise they will continue reaping on us,” Chimtengo said.

Even though an ordinary person in the village may know nothing about consumer rights but everyone is entitled to consumer rights which the former US president John F Kennedy in 1963 set out for everybody to enjoy.

Kennedy believed that consumers must enjoy four basic rights which are right to safety, right to choose, right to access information and right to be heard and should always demand them whenever relevant bodies are depriving them.

These are the rights in which consumer rights are embedded that Malawians need to be encouraged to demand from their traders and service providers as we forge ahead into a more complicated digital age.

Source: Malawi News Agency – MANA