Ever since its declaration as a global pandemic by World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 12 this year, the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease, first reported and diagnosed in Wuhan City in China last December, has completely changed the way people live.
Businesses have stalled with many forced to change the way they operate. Jobs have been lost and still counting. Shares have tumbled on various stock markets. Schools have closed and, in some cases now making do with online learning.
These are clear signs that even after the Covid-19 dust settles, life will surely never be the same again.
Sadly, during crises such as the Covid-19 which we are grappling with, there is a temptation by some unscrupulous entrepreneurs to cash in through various means that put consumers at a disadvantage. In most cases such traders tend to inflate prices or tamper with measurements. Sometimes, substandard and counterfeit products also join the fray and priced at a premium.
The Covid-19 crisis has also left scores of parents and guardians disturbed by demands from private schools for full fees, including ‘boarding’ fees in some ridiculous cases, when their wards have not been attending school since March 23 when the Malawi Government ordered closure of all schools as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Covid-19.
While it is a fact that schools are a business and have to keep afloat, I find it unreasonable and unfair for them to ask parents and guardians to pay full fees. In some cases, the fees being demanded are in the region of K500 000 per learner, not an easy amount for parents and guardians to raise during this crisis where even big corporations are struggling with some offering half-pay or laying off people altogether.
Education is one area I would implore the Competition and Fair Trading Commission—established by an Act of Parliament in 1998 to regulate and monitor monopolies and to protect consumer welfare, among others—to delve in. There are hundreds of parents and guardians who are suffering in silence. What is the justification for schools to demand full fees for online lessons which are also costing parents and guardians a fortune in Internet data costs? In some cases, parents and guardians have to physically travel to the schools to collect “lessons”. Besides, the parents are also investing their time “teaching” the learners.
During my days as a Lions Club Charter member over a decade ago, I fell in love with the Lions Code of Ethics which generally provides guidance on ethical behaviour across various life spheres. Herewith two of the Lions Code of Ethics worth pondering: (1). To seek success and to demand all fair remuneration or profit as my just due, but to accept no profit or success at the price of my own self-respect lost because of unfair advantage taken or because of questionable acts on my part; and, (2). To remember that in building up my business it is not necessary to tear down another’s; to be loyal to my clients or customers and true to myself.
Last, but not least, I would like to commend the Competition and Fair Trading Commission headed by James Kaphale for fining eight pharmacy shops this week for inflating prices of Covid-19 prevention products such as masks and hand sanitisers. That is the way to go. Please investigate the schools as well. Consumers deserve protection from unscrupulous entrepreneurs and unfair trading practices. Covid-19 is real, its impact has not spared anyone.