The eventual implementation of the Consumer Protection Act will help place Zimbabwe on par with other countries in terms of tackling the emotive issue of protection of consumer rights, but at the same time encouraging industry to improve quality.
The Act replaced the Consumer Contracts Act, and comes with a plethora of rules and guidance meant to set standards for a range of attributes, from labelling to proper descriptions.
There should be no difference in the interests of consumers, retailers and producers. Quality products and business practices following agreed standards benefit everyone.
But the goodwill being shown by Government in ensuring that the Act starts to work places a lot of responsibilities on both the consumers and providers of goods and services.
This week, President Mnangagwa officiated at a ceremony to push the new law so that it becomes fully active.
That the ceremony was attended by senior Government officials, including Vice Presidents Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, clearly demonstrates the urgency with which Government treats issues around consumer protection.
The fact that the Act was mooted is an indication of the need to set standards and have a system of dealing with disputes easily and quickly.
Unscrupulous business operators, who do not regard the rights of the consumers through deception should start mending their ways if they do not want to cry foul.
From experiences of the past few years, some of the intolerable behaviour by business included multi-tier pricing, fraudulent offers, failure to label products properly and the disclosure of consumers’ personal information to third parties.
Sub-standard goods find their way onto the market, while some operators and traders are in the habit of selling underweight products like bread, maize meal and flour.
Consumers have always been at the receiving end.
What is now urgent is the establishment of the Consumer Protection Commission that is envisaged under the Act.
The commission should be entrusted with the main responsibility of educating the consumers on their rights and ensuring that service providers do not deviate from the spirit of fairness.
What is needed urgently are rules that create a fair marketplace, managed by enforced rules.
The Commission should be mandated with educating consumers on their rights and the steps they can take for recourse if they feel aggrieved by treatment from business operators.
It will call for massive education and awareness campaigns by the Commission, if it is to be effective in making the consumers realise when they are treated unfairly.
Rules should be developed for suing those who break the law, especially those who do not make good what they promise consumers through adverts and other marketing tools.
There are a number of times when consumers rush to certain places after viewing an advert, only to discover they are buying a product with totally different specifications from those stated on the advert.
It will be more effective if the envisaged Commission sets compulsory standards for certain goods before they are sold to ensure safety for the consumers.
Products that pose a danger to consumers should be banned or recalled as a matter of urgency, to help preserve the health of consumers.
In most shops in Zimbabwe, it is common to come across notices intimating that there is no refund for a defective product, and that the shop owner does not accept returns.
This unfair practice has been working to the advantage of business operators, so we expect the Commission to intervene and ensure that consumers are free to get a refund if the product turns out to be fake or not performing to expectations.
All the same, consumers should always be aware that not all business operators are genuine. A lot of crooks selling fake items have hit the market of late.
These sometimes send their “runners” to entrances of bigger shops where they convince customers that the smaller shop offers the same product at a cheaper price.
But many consumers have regretted after realising that they used less money, but bought a fake product or a defective one.
This means that the Commission’s work should include educating consumers on how to identify a genuine business or the one dealing in authentic products.
Some business operators actually possess all the required documents that make them legitimate, but still this does not make them become honesty when dealing with consumers.
It is most welcome that the Act makes it illegal for retailers to remove price tags from shop shelves, bars retailers and manufacturers from electronic marketing of goods without the consent of the owner of the gadget, and bars unjustified arbitrary price hikes.
It makes it illegal for retailers to force consumers to spend a certain amount of money shopping other goods as a precondition to buy a scarce commodity.
These are some of the practices that have had a negative impact on consumers after being forced to fork out more simply because the shop owner cannot provide small change.
Early this year, we reported that at least 16 registered companies were caught short-changing consumers by selling underweight goods — mainly bread, meat and maize meal.
It is every consumer’s hope that the Consumer Protection Act will bring fairness, efficiency and transparency on the marketplace to enable purchasers of goods and services to get value out of their money.