Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
The National Assembly yesterday passed the Consumer Protection and the Microfinance Amendment Bills aimed at protecting the rights of consumers and streamline the operations of micro finance institutions. The two Bills, which will now be transmitted to Senate, are part of Government’s efforts to improve individuals’ rights and operation environment for businesses. The Consumer Protection Bill seeks to protect consumers from unreasonable, unjust or otherwise improper trade practices; as well as deceptive, misleading, unfair or fraudulent conduct.
The Bill, passed with one major amendment that will see the establishment of a Consumer Protection Commission, instead of an Agency, as had been intended in the initial Bill brought before the House.
The Commission will comprise of between seven and 12 members appointed by the Minister of Industry and Commerce after consultation with the President. The commissioners will include persons with qualifications in environment, agriculture, commerce, competition and trade, standards and quality, consumer protection, energy and law. The composition of the Commission should show gender equality, regional balance and also include persons living with disabilities.
The Commission will also be responsible for carrying out consumer education and awareness programmes.
The Microfinance Bill seeks to amend the Microfinance Act to reduce the variety of institutions that can carry microfinance business to only two.
At present, the Act envisages four different types of institutions namely; the corporate microfinanciers, which are partnerships or companies engaged in money-lending or providing credit to or accepting deposits from small-scale businesses and members of lower-income groups; credit-only microfinanciers, which are organisations that provide loans and credit to small-scale borrowers; deposit-taking microfinanciers, which are organisations accepting deposits from small-scale businesses and members of lower-income groups and money-lenders, who provide loans and credit, but are not microfinanciers.
To reduce confusion and overlapping, the Bill amends the Act to only recognise two institutions namely; the credit-only microfinance institutions (that is companies that provide loans and credit to small-scale borrowers); and deposit-taking microfinance institutions (namely companies that accept deposits from small-scale businesses and members of lower-income groups).
The Bill also seeks to extend and strengthen the supervision over microfinance institutions to protect the public from unscrupulous companies.