Reflections for Kenyans as they mark Consumer Rights Day
Written by West FM Correspondent
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This year’s theme is
“Our money, our rights: campaigning for real choice in financial services”. This resonates well with the recent public debate over fate of Central Bank governor on the steady shilling decline against foreign currencies last year.
Today is, therefore, an opportune moment for Kenyans to reflect on the state of consumer protection.
Significant strides have so far been made on the consumer protection front. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 under Article 46 has express provisions for consumer protection.
The law places enormous obligations and responsibility on manufacturers of goods as well as providers of services, both private and public, on consumer protection.
Meeting quality, safety standards and value-for-money consumer satisfaction is mandatory. Failure to do so now attracts compensatory penalties.
The Consumer Protection Bill is awaiting second reading in Parliament. The Bill sponsored by Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo and now taken over by the Commission on Implementation of the Constitution (CIC), once enacted, will prove a key milestone in liberating consumers.
Article 22 of the Constitution now grants class action suits. It provides for every person the right to institute court proceedings whenever a consumer right has been denied, violated or infringed, or threatened. No court fee is chargeable for such applications.
Article 70 accords every person the right to a clean and healthy environment. Unlike in the past jurisdictions, an applicant in this case does not have to demonstrate that any person has incurred loss or suffered injury.
The Competition Authority, established under Cap 504, is expected to regulate the market and protect consumers. The unimplemented Price Control (Essential Goods) Act is expected to check extreme market dominance excesses of price fixing through regulation of the prices of essential commodities in order to secure their availability at reasonable prices.
Consumer awareness has been considerably boosted thanks to the local mainstream and social media. A weekly TV show dubbed “consumer watch”, for instance, has sustained a competitive pricing among major supermarkets on fast-moving consumer goods.
Increasingly the mainstream media choice of diction “consumer” to replace the ambiguous and over-used “customer” is gaining currency among business people and government alike.
An initiative to set up the Consumer Protection Stakeholders Coordination Committee (CPSCC) to bring together government, private sector, civil society and development partners is underway. The Committee will be chaired by Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industrialization.
A lot more is happening on the positive front. But that is not to say there are no challenges. A mention of few broad ones will suffice.
Firstly, Kenya’s foreign policy does not emphasize the centrality of consumer welfare in its bilateral and multilateral relations.
Coupled with poor local compliance and enforcement, Kenya remains a dumping ground for substandard, counterfeit and contraband goods.
State agencies expected to wage a spirited war against this challenge have fared well but often in the wrong direction and with little to show for their respective taxpayers’ investments.
Secondly, consumer information, education and communication programs have either been weak or poorly coordinated. They have failed to prove that “cheap is expensive” and further persuade majority on “buying Kenya” products relative to cheap imports.
Thirdly, the absence of a well-equipped food, beverages and drugs inspection and quality assurance authority has put the lives and future of consumers at the mercy of unscrupulous traders.
The Pharmacy and Poisons Board has sustained a venomous relationship with consumers, with little to show for the agency steeped in government red tape as wrong medicines remain in circulation.
Fourth, regulatory agencies across all sectors are in dire need of own regulation. Their leadership are either unwilling and or ill-equipped technically, financially or administratively to carry out their vast mandates.