Zimbabwean Members of Parliament have rejected the establishment of the Consumer Protection Agency, opting for a Consumer Protection Commission, which should be independent from executive interference.

Presenting the Bill in parliament recently, Industry and Commerce Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said the Bill principally seeks to protect the consumers of goods and services by establishing the Consumer Protection Agency and the regulation of Consumer Advocacy Organisations.

“The Bill Agency.  The functions of the agency are centered on the protection of consumers from unjust, unreasonable, improper and unacceptable, deceptive, unfair and fraudulent conduct and trading practices.  The agency shall also promote fair business,” said Ndlovu.

But MPs said in as much as they support the intentions of the Bill, they were against the establishment of an Agency that would operate under the ministry.

Hon. Mushoriwa, started by saying the Minister is actually paying lip-service to the question of consumer protection, as the Bill was drafted with flaws in it.  He said minister talks of a Consumer Protection Agency yet when you go into the Bill, there are several areas where it is regarded as authority.

“If you look at the Bill, the Hon. Minister in creating an Agency the Agency does not have power.  In effect, the Agency is actually a department the Minister of Industry and Commerce there is no way that you can have a Consumer Protection Agency that is department under the ministry and serviced by the people who are working in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.  It defeats all logic,” he said.

He added that the Bill was created hurriedly and on bad faith by the minister who wants to deceive the customers.

“The people want an independent Consumer Protection Agency. What is contained in this Bill is not an independent Consumer Protection Agency. People want an independent Consumer Protection Commission.  Anything else, is lip service,” he added.

Hon. Paradza, agreed; “This body, the Consumer Protection Agency must be a standalone from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce,” he added. He said he believes so because if it is an independent body, it is going to do away with the conflict of interest and also the bureaucracy which country is experiencing at the moment.

Hon. Biti, weighted in saying the ultimate consumer protection will actually come from a stable and sound macro-economic environment that protects consumers. “Where you have a run-away inflation and hyper-inflation, there is no consumer protection,” said Hon. Biti.

Added that it is important to have a solid and sound macro-economic environment.  Pointed out that one of the off-shoots of the current unstable macro-economic environment is the multiple, four-tier pricing system that has commodified the stronger US$.

He said; “That makes consumer protection very academic.”

Consumer protection is also made academic when you are consuming other people’s goods.  Zimbabwe is not producing only banks on cheap imports.

“Zimbabwe has the Human Rights Commission, Gender Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, and it also follows that we need a Consumer Protection Commission and not a Consumer Protection Agency.

The difference is important because the Commission becomes independent, appointed by Parliament and answerable to Parliament and not the Minister of Industry and Commerce,” said Biti.

In his presentation, Minister Ndlovu highlighted further, that the Bill also seeks to promotes consumer awareness and empowerment by referring and appearing before any court of law.

“Clause 6 provides for the establishment of the Consumer Protection Committee.  The committee shall be responsible for the controlling of agency operations and all such matters pertaining to running of the agency, and promulgation of mechanism to allow consumer complaints, reports and violations reported, received, investigations to be conducted,” he said.

He said these will in turn provide for the return, repair or recalling of such goods consumers are exposed to and put liability of damages to the producer.

He said it prohibits suppliers from accepting payments of goods or service they are not able to supply or deliver and outlines the redress in instances where a supplier has accepted also outlines the redress in instances where a supplier has accepted payment but fails to deliver due to various reasons.

“It prohibits suppliers of goods or services, owners or occupiers of shops or other trading premises from displaying or causing to be displayed any sign or notice that purports, disclaim liability or deny any right to a consumer under this Act,” said the minister.

It was submitted that some shops refuse returns or refunds by customers for commodities that were defective.  In most cases consumers are forced to exchange for another commensurate with the amount paid and usually against the consumer’s preference.

The Committee calls the government to bring to an end the practice of saying no refunds and no returns by making this illegal.

He said, “On refunds, under Clause, in the event that the supplier is unable to replace a defective commodity, the consumer should be compensated based on the prevailing prices. A refund to the consumer may be eroded by inflation and other economic fundamental, therefore, the Committee recommend that the consumer should be should be refunded at the market price of the commodity.”