March 15 is the World Consumer Rights Day. The day provides an opportunity to consumers to reflect on the quality of services and products they get on the market as well as how they can fulfil their duties and responsibilities.
In view of the day, today I will focus on Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) which once upon a time, was a household name associated with standards and quality.
Back then, until the early years of the new millennium, MBS used to put service providers in check to ensure that consumers were not taken for granted and given a raw deal, as it were.
In partnership with the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) and other authorities such as city councils, MBS “raided” businesses, both retail and manufacturers, checking adherence to standards, expiry dates and product composition.
MBS of old would inspect the weight and measurement equipment in market places to ensure that consumers pay for the right quantities of goods purchased.
MBS would also undertake spot checks in public eateries, bakeries and such other places, all in the best interests of the consumer.
Then, suddenly, MBS went dead silent.
The last time I checked, objectives of MBS, as outlined in the MBS Act, included promotion of standardisation in commerce and industry; preparation and issue of standards and administering schemes based thereon; providing testing of locally manufactured or imported commodities with a view to determine whether such commodities comply with the provisions of the MBS Act, the Merchandise Marks Act or any other law relating to standards of quality; and, controlling the use of standardisation marks.
In recent months, though, I have been delighted to learn that, after all, it was too early to write an obituary for MBS as the organisation is alive and kicking!
In a country where poor consumers are taken for granted by powerful corporations, MBS has been on their side, enforcing adherence to standards, hygiene and all. The other day, MBS ordered off the shelves a batch of Aqua Pure water, then more recently it ordered Chibuku Products Limited (CPL) to put its house in order at the Lilongwe Brewery where the bureau found that hygiene standards left a lot to be desired.
Last Friday, social media was awash with an MBS notice suspending butchery, bakery and food production at the upmarket and elegant Superior Food Market in Blantyre.
So far so good.
But, when all is said and done, MBS should also be reminded that there is still more to be done. For example, there has been a boom in bottled water products. Some of the water, by merely looking at the packaging, raises quality check questions. Who certifies such products?
In law, they say that He Who Seeks Equity Must Come With Clean Hands. To effectively deliver and earn public confidence and trust, MBS should ensure that its officers making the enforcements are above reproach.
In most of the cases I have hailed the bureau for a job well done, the surprising thing was that they closed a big institution like the CPL Lilongwe Brewery today only to reopen it the following day or thereabouts on the basis that the shortfalls have been addressed. Really? It just does not add up.
This week, Parliament passed the Metrology Bill which seeks to establish a national measurement system and uniformity of measurements. There are stiff penalties proposed for offenders.
Businesses should bear in mind that what is important are not fines or closure orders by MBS. Basic hygiene is the barest minimum in food handling and preparation. Always put oneself in the shoes of the consumer?
Well done MBS for getting back to business. There are scores of fast-food outlets and “filthy” supermarkets around town. Do not be cowed by the branding. In fact, it is in some of the up-market supermarkets where consumers are buying rotten meat and meat products.