To a Malawian consumer, there is no better news than the decision by the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) to punish some service providers for giving them raw deals.
It is ironic that news of the commission’s decisions has come at a time Malawi will be joining the global community in commemorating the World Consumer Rights Day on March 20. This year, the day will be celebrated under the theme The Sustainable Consumer.
Briefly, the commission assessed at least 72 cases out of which 24 bordered on alleged unfair trading practices, 19 on restrictive business practices, 23 on Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) mergers and six on local mergers.
From the list of cases, my attention was drawn to the alleged “deceptive” conduct by two of the country’s major commercial banks, National Bank of Malawi (NBM) plc and Standard Bank plc.
Each of the two banks was fined K500 000 for engaging in what the commission termed “unconscionable conduct in the trade of goods and services”.
On its part, NBM plc “deceptively charged debit interest to customer accounts and failed to provide timely remedy despite repeated pleas from the affected consumers” in contravention of Section 43 of the Competition and Fair Trading Act.
Standard Bank, on the other hand, did not pay interest to a number of customers with interest-earning Contract Save Accounts upon maturity of the contracts, thereby causing distress to consumers.
Yet another interesting case was one of Garani MW1 which has been ordered to cease and desist from engaging in misleading advertising following investigations the commission conducted which showed that the company’s promotional materials claimed that its herbal product named Garani MW1 cured HIV and Aids and other diseases.
The CFTC decisions took me back to Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito who is on record as having said that proper monitoring and inspection systems are critical to ensuring that everyone is accountable for their actions on the market.
While the commission’s decisions are a welcome development in terms of consumer protection, I find the fines not enough to deter would-be offenders from engaging in similar malpractices. Perhaps in future, the penalties for the financial institutions should be a ‘small’ percentage of their annual profits. Besides, the commission should be clear on the remedies given to the affected customers.
The list of unfair trading practices is not conclusive. Perhaps another area CFTC would wish to review is the conduct of mobile phone network operators who restrict subscribers to use ‘bonus’ airtime within a defined network. This does not make sense to me as the airtime that earned the customer the bonus was used to call “other networks”.
I also commend the concerned consumers who reported the respective cases of raw deals to CFTC. That is the way to go. Do not suffer in silence. It is important to be vigilant and demand the best beyond the World Consumer Rights Day which dates back to 1962 when President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America addressed the US Congress and formally raised the issue of consumer rights.
Records show that JFK became the first world leader to raise issues of consumerism; hence, the consumer rights movement worldwide commemorates the day annually as a special platform to raise awareness for consumer rights, including demanding the protection and respect for the said rights.
The 2020 World Consumer Rights Day theme of The Sustainable Consumer is tailored to discuss the need for sustainable consumption globally and highlight the important role that consumer rights and protection can play.
Consumers should be given the protection they deserve both online and offline as they provide the market and are the reason corporates exist.
Make the 2020 World Consumer Rights Day this March 15 a point of reflection and resolve not to suffer in silence whenever you feel your rights as a consumer are being infringed by the ‘big foot’ of the corporate giants. Do not be intimidated.