Rates of consumer goods and services traded in the Kenyan open market are subjectively fixed by the producers. Equally important is the fact that the market has various products and services with wavering tax rates. These twin market elements render it almost impossible for consumers to establish whether retailers are charging the permitted amounts of taxes. This obscurity causes obvious economic hardship to the consumer just as it occasions untold loss to the exchequer in terms of tax leakage.
This market behaviour therefore calls for consumer protection. Protecting consumers helps cushion them not only against predatory pricing but also instills confidence in different institutions of government. A good consumer protection regime guarantees safety and quality of the products and services in the market. Economic activities would benefit when consumers have trust in the producers of goods and services in a country.
Towards this end, Article 46 of the Constitution and its enabling statute, the Consumer Protection Act, 2010 are landmark achievements. Consumer rights and obligations vis-a-vis product and service liability are provided herein. This system of law provide for the promotion and enforcement of consumer rights. They empower consumers to seek redress for infringement of their rights, including compensation. This is a break from the past where consumer protection regimes were criminal in nature. They were leaning more towards bans for malpractices and or prosecution for breach of their provisions.
This acquires currency within the context of recent happenings. The National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwa's recent advice to internet service providers. He urged the internet providers to offer expensive internet data bundles without expiration date. That such data bundles expiry occasions loss to the user because of expiry of time rather than usage. He called on the Committee for Information, Communication and Technology to speed up the modalities of having internet service providers to implement the token model where the user pays for what he uses without expiration date.
Earlier, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) had ordered a recall of certain edible oil and cooking fat brands due to alleged non-compliance with set standards which rendered the listed oils unfit for human consumption. Nevertheless, Kebs was quick to clarify the flagging of the brands did not amount to a ban but was a temporary suspension to be lifted once appropriate corrective action is undertaken and verified. Nonetheless, a spot check by Capital Business as reported on September 23, 2022 indicated that despite the agency's order about the suspension of the oils, retailers retained them with some selling on offer.
Many citizens must be aware that charges in 5-star hotels for ordinary goods and services remain beyond the means of ordinary men. Matatu particularly in cities vary their fares for the same distances whenever there is any upward revision of fuel however negligible or based on the time of the day, throwing the citizen into a tizzy.
By far and large, weights and measuring devices in the market today are either faulty or tampered with the intention to defraud the consumer. There are pollution and environmental protection concerns in terms of noise from various sources including clubs, matatus, and churches etc. Standards for the safety and nutritional quality of some foods are questionable. Fitness of some agricultural products including those that are genetically modified is unknown. It is my opinion that the administration takes necessary steps to protect the consumer.
To begin with, let the government introduce the maximum retail price (MRP). India is successful with this good practice. The objective of MRP that's printed on all packaged commodities is to prevent tax evasion and safeguard consumers from retail profiteering. It's a calculated and purposive manufacturers' price that is inclusive of all taxes. Furthermore, having an MRP may help in curbing black-marketeering. Consequently, it's a violation of law to charge above MRP. It's thus, a safety net against greedy pricing.
Accordingly, agencies clothed with governmental power of protecting the consumer must ensure the consumer is treated like a king. Indeed, no king would love to be deceived. There's need to acknowledge that poor, illiterate and inexperienced consumers are more vulnerable to being sold poor quality products and to illegitimate sales. Typically, consumer protection policies are important to protect consumers from scams, rip-offs, misleading advertisements, poor services and unsafe goods.
Dr Nyatundo is adjunct lecturer, School of Law, Africa Nazarene University and visiting lecturer, School of Law, Kisii University. [email protected]