The consumer protection bill has been on the cards from as far back as 2014. Then it was halted and resurrected again. For such an important piece of legislation it seems to not be getting the focus or push it should be. Well it is back on again and a draft that will presented before parliament is available for scrutiny. The parliamentary portfolio committee on Industry and commerce was out doing country wide consultations on the bill.
Well the evidence of the need for the bill is overwhelming. Firstly we can cite Zimbabwe’s pore performance in the ease of doing business report. Of the 10 aspects of business that are measured the one we perform worst at is the enforcement of contracts. The consumer protection Bill addresses contractual issues and the need for a consumer court.
If we are truly open for business then we must be open completely. Business is not just about a few wealthy people with money to set up operations and mobilize assets. The most important thing in business is the customer. Ensuring that the customer experience meets a minimum standard is crucial in providing a favorable operating environment .
The purpose of the consumer protection bill is to create a law that governs consumer and business relations . It is intended to be the source for law in dealing with customer issues including the rights of consumers, contract and sales laws and recourse in the event of disputes.
Let’s have a look at the rights the Act will enshrine
- Right to the satisfaction of Basic Needs
- Right to safety
- Right to be informed / display of prices
- Right to choose
- Right to be heard
- Right to redress
- Right to Consumer Education
- Right to information in plain and understandable language
- Consumer’s right to select suppliers
- Consumer’s right to cancel advance reservation, booking or order
- Consumer’s right to choose or examine goods
- Consumer’s right to safe, good and quality goods
- Consumer’s right to be heard and obtain redress
In addition to issues to do with dispute resolution the bill proposes minimum standards for agreements and implied terms for certain agreements. The aspect of contractual protection is also very important because it looks at unfair consumer contracts. The current position of the law looks at contractual disputes on the basis of the terms of the contract alone. The introduction of this element would mean that parts of contracts that are unfair can be set aside. This will help rid our country of no refund no return policies and enforce tacit warranties.
A consumer court will be established and this court will handle matters to do with consumer complaints and disputes. This court will expedite consumer issues and is necessary due to the well documented back log of cases in our magistrates courts. Also to note that parties in consumer court may be represented by legal practitioners or members of consumer organisations. This will allow associations like the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and other concerned civic organisations to provide support to consumers. The bill also simplifies the process for bringing a class action suit against a party. The court can impose imprisonment up to two years for those found guilty of offences under this act.
When the law passes it will ultimately consolidate consumer protection laws in the country. It will also bring those consumer protection laws into line with the constitution. It will certainly change the way business is done from both the consumer and business perspective.