Nearly five or so years ago, prior to my becoming a charter member of the New Century Lions Club of Chichiri in Blantyre, one of the things I used to enjoy during club meetings was the recital of the Lions Code of Ethics.
Precisely, there were three codes that I still reflect on to this day. One of the codes urges Lions and all “to be careful with my criticism and liberal with my praise; to build up and not destroy.”
The other code states: “To remember that in building up my business, it is not necessary to tear down anotherâ€™s; to be loyal to my clients or customers and true to myself.”
Sorry for digressing, dear reader, but, suffice to say, I thought these codes, much as they are recited by Lions, apply in various endeavours of our daily lives. The last code I have cited promotes fair trading and competition.
How many times have we encountered notices in shops telling consumers: “Goods once purchased are not returnable.” Some bus operators also outright, state on their tickets that â€˜there is no refund for lost luggage.â€™
This week, the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) condemned such persisting anti-competitive and unfair trade practices which contravene the commissionâ€™s law of 1998. Much has not been heard about the CFTC, save for when on two or three occasions it reviewed some mergers and acquisitions in the tobacco and oil sector.
Essentially, the Competition and Fair Trading Act was put in place to encourage competition in the economy by prohibiting anti-competitive trade practices; to regulate monopolies and concentrations of economic power; to protect consumer welfare. Perhaps today we need to be taking stock of what the commission has done to check unfair trading practices and protect consumersâ€™ welfare, for example!
Talk of price fixing which the law prohibits. How many sectors tend to “fix” prices? Do players in various sectors of the economy have the same overhead costs to charge uniform prices? Where should consumers lodge their complaints? What redress do consumers have for being exploited in such a way?
In an ideal situation, competition should be an essential element towards efficient markets. Competition is expected to bring several benefits to consumers, including innovation and fair or competitive prices as they say. But are consumers getting the real deal?