Michael Tome and Kudakwashe Mhundwa
The Consumer Protection Bill that has been on the cards for nearly a decade, is set to be reactivated in the second quarter of this year, as the proposed law is expected to be presented during the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.
This was revealed recently during a meeting that involved the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Industry and Commerce and a number of business lobby groups.
The legislation, which was initially supposed to be tabled before the Eighth Parliament, will transform the way producers and consumers interact when enacted. It will also provide for the establishment of the Consumer Protection Agency and regulation of consumer advocacy organisations in the country.
Once the proposed legislation is passed into law, consumers are expected to get legal protection, as they are being abused by service providers.
Customers have been on the receiving end of businesses, as prices of most basic goods and services have sky-rocketed in the last few months, while they had limited resources when unfairly treated by traders.
Director of Legal Services in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce Mr Never Katiyo said the Consumer Protection Bill provided for the establishment and functions of the Consumer Protection Agency, whose principal role is to protect the rights of consumers.
“The functions of the agency are centred on the protection of consumers from unjust, unreasonable, improper and unacceptable, deceptive, unfair and fraudulent trading practices,” said Mr Katiyo.
“The agency shall also promote fair business practices by coordinating and networking consumer activities with consumers vis-à-vis consumer organisations and protection of consumer interests. Further, the authority promotes consumer awareness and empowerment by referring and appearing before any court.”
Other key areas include promoting consumer confidence, empowerment and development of a culture of consumer responsibility through individual and group education, vigilant advocacy and activism; providing a consistent, accessible and efficient system of resolution of disputes arising from consumer transaction. Consumer Council board chairman Mr Phillip Bvumbe also said the enactment of the Bill would be a game-changer, considering that it offers redress mechanisms in the event of violation of consumer rights.
“You will find that the current mechanism has no redress mechanisms when it comes to breaches of consumer rights.
“This is a transformational Bill and it’s a game-changer in the way consumers will interact with the market place.
“It will bring in a dispute resolution mechanism through voluntary arbitration as well as advocacy consumer groups. We will also have a consumer agency within the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, which will work hand in hand with the consumer committee, which will have various representations from different sectors, with the majority coming from consumers,” said Mr Bvumbe
He also said the Bill follows international best practices as the formulation team made regional consultations.
“We held consultative sessions with all consumers from the 10 provinces in Zimbabwe and we also visited South Africa to benchmark the current Bill with international standards and we were able to learn quite a lot from the South African consumer protection systems during the consultative process,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) chief executive officer Mr Takunda Mugaga commended the Bill, saying it was a positive move that will protect consumers from exposure to substandard products.
“The Bill is a ploy to make sure consumers are protected from substandard products. I think you have seen the levels of substandard product dumping in the country. I think this a step in the right direction and is welcome . . . (and) will bring relief not only to consumers, but the producers given that they are also consumers,” said Mr Mugaga.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu said the legislation was long overdue. He said it will guarantee customer protection from reckless conduct by traders.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Sifelani Jabangwe said: “We are for best practice which will ensure that all businesses conduct their business in an ethical way and that’s what this Bill is asking for.
“It wants to make sure that goods and services that are sold or delivered to consumers must be of a certain criteria and if they don’t, the consumer must have right for recourse.”