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Amend laws to protect rights of consumers

By Stephen Mutoro | October 24th 2020 at 08:05:00 GMT +0300

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report has elicited various reactions from different quarters.

Away from the political divide, alignments and emotions that go with it, there are many issues that will be received differently by different groups. Most critical, the intention of the BBI is to keep the country together, grow the economy and reduce the periodic economic slumps that precede and follow elections. It is about political stability as well as predictability of the economy.

Arguments have been made as to whether the proposed changes, for instance, on governance could be a gamble and or a clear-cut strategy.

Be that as it may, any change is as good. Laws are made for the people. It is not people who should therefore conform to any laws. As long as law strategically supports the greater good, then it must be adopted.

Even as the debate around the BBI gathers storm – of support and condemnation from all quarters, it is in public interest to speak about consumer protection as an area that the BBI either overlooked or assumed wasn’t a priority. Consumer rights are stated in Article 46 of the Constitution. But the enabling legislation, Consumer Protection Act, 2012 was passed based on a 2007 a private member’s Bill.

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Former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo’s draft was made on the understanding that the law could not occasion public expenditure. As a result, the Kenya Consumer Protection Advisory Committee set up under Section 89 of the Act remains an impotent one – since it is neither a body corporate nor its’ advisory status binding.

Considering that consumer protection applies in public and private sectors, the Consumer Protection Act 2012 does not reflect the letter and spirit of the constitutional provisions. The law, as is, restricts itself to a few sectors of the economy.

Not surprising, therefore, that Section 94 of the Act which requires consumer representation on all regulatory bodies such as Central Bank, Communications Authority and tens of similar others which have been ignored by majority appointing authorities.

Consumer protection is about proactive protection from potentially dangerous adverse effects of say bad health that arises from contaminated imported and or local foodstuffs. Doubts over product quality, for instance, can be reduced drastically if consumer representatives had a say on the board of Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

It is interesting that Kebs has a duo role of setting up standards and market surveillance at the same time. This is akin to having an investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time.

People buy bad products such as construction materials which never last. Some rogue entrepreneurs are using every means to buy their legitimacy. People are buying bad farm input seed, fertilisers that pass off as genuine ones. A lot of fraud continues in the e-commerce sector.

Banks have been at it with excessive high cost of credit. A case in point is the restructuring of loans between March and September – which again proceeded to attract more interest than expected. Kenyans have lost, and continue to lose, millions of shillings to scammers disguising themselves as property sellers.

For this reason the BBI report must consider more policy, administrative and legislative proposals on consumer protection. BBI would have seen the need for overhaul of the Consumer Protection Act, 2012 and amalgamate the same with other scattered legislation – and consider a strong Food and Drugs Authority that would have less government and more consumer and stakeholder representation.

-The writer is Secretary General, Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek)

 


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