In this life, there are many things we take for granted. For example, many times consumers complain about the standard of service offered by one service provider or another. Sadly, however, in Malawi, very few take the bold step to take up issues with the powers that be.
Briefly put, many consumers suffer in silence.
Picture this situation. How many times have you stood on a queue in a banking hall for hours with one quarter of the serving counters in use? How many times have players in the telecommunications industry taken you for a ride with poor service? Indeed, how many times have shops violated your rights by, among other things, asking you to deposit your handbag with valuables at the entrance?
Surely, many of us have answered “yes” to the above questions. However, very few have sought redress.
I recall my recent experience at a branch of one of the major banks in the country where I presented a cheque for encashment as a third party. The teller took my identity card and the cheque and, in his own words, “forgot” that he had referred it to his superiors for verification. That was after I had waited for over one hour and enquired whether there was a problem. What surprises me is that every time you remind a service provider about some “delays”, they always act swiftly.
Then there are some shops who proudly display this disclaimer: “Goods once purchased cannot be returned.” In the transport sector, there are bus operators who put up a similar notice: “Katundu akatayika sitimalipira” meaning “luggage is carried at owner’s risk, there will be no refund.” Such disclaimers are prohibited under the Competition and Fair Trading Act, a law designed to, among others, prohibit anti-competitive trade practices; to protect consumer welfare; and, to strengthen the efficiency of production and distribution of goods and services.
Section 43 of the Competition and Fair Trading Act sets out a number of measures to protect consumers from exploitation. Under this law, traders or service providers are not supposed to engage in bait selling. Here I have in mind some “special offers” such as “buy two get one free” which, going by this law, are illegal. In any case, why force a consumer to buy two bottles when they can get one. In some cases, some shops sell a product on condition that the consumer buys another specified product.
Due to cut-throat competition in the telecommunications sector, in recent years we have seen the growth of unsolicited adverts on our cellphones via short message services (SMSs). The most frustrating thing with the operator generated SMSs is that the same message keeps coming.
But, as consumers, what we need to know is that we pay for the service; hence, should not allow to be short-changed or exploited just like that. True, we have the right to basic communication services. We also have the right to a responsive regulator that proactively takes into account our interests, needs and values of consumers.
At the same time, consumers have the right to redress, including fair and prompt redress.
The Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) is one avenue through which consumers can lodge complaints on abuses or poor standards offered by service providers. Besides, there is also the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) which records such poor service standards and takes up the issue with concerned parties. In case of phone subscribers, the consumer section of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) is also open to hear your cries.
Do not suffer in silence. Speak out! That is the only way we can get the service we deserve as customers.