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government should merge the NIPC with the CCZ
March 23, 2012
now, consumers and observers alike have brutally condemned the Consumer
Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), the country sole consumer watchdog as
an ineffective and toothless entity. Having worked in my time in
close association with this body, I view this thinking as rather
unfortunate and ill informed. It is not the intention of this article
to prop up the battered image of the watchdog, but to discuss and
dissect observant issues I think may have worked against the organization
ever realizing its full potential.
The blame for
the failure by the CCZ to effectively discharge its duty of representing
consumers should rest squarely on the shoulders of government because
of its inability to adequately finance this organization. The CCZ
likes to appear to the public as an independent body, free from
government control, yet it survives from grants from the Ministry
of Industry and International Trade and hardly has income of its
own. Even its board of directors, which is never changed, is appointed
by the same ministry, which quite strangely also houses a Consumer
Affairs Department. This is more like having a parent company with
two subsidiaries that share exactly the same mandate.
Over the years,
government has consistently failed to capacitate the important consumer
watchdog with financial resources necessary to make it an effective
organization. Policy wise, the government has also failed to institute
sound consumer protection policies, or to enact modern consumer
regulations despite numerous protestations from the watchdog. In
spite of its failure to fund the CCZ, government has not allowed
the CCZ to seek for alternative means of survival for fear that
the lame organization might catapult itself into a political movement
with the usual regime change agenda. Or maybe, it is sheer lack
of determination to think outside the box for other means to keep
the organization afloat on the part of the incumbent leadership?
It is undeniable that the CCZ has great scope to attract alternative
forms of funding given its broad mandate.
accompanied a friend to the offices of CCZ and what I found there
was shocking. Morale among the few workers left is at its lowest
ebb, and the corporate culture leaves a lot to be desired. I was
informed workers including senior executives report for work as
and when they please. There is no sense of urgency to do or achieve
anything. No-one can blame the workers, considering the pitiful
salaries they earn, barely enough to keep them reporting for work
everyday. Resources are scarce and many vital but vacant positions
are unfilled because the organization cannot afford competitive
salaries needed to retain or recruit new personnel. What this means
is that most of the watchdog-s work remains unfulfilled because
it is understaffed.
The CCZ is the
country-s only truly consumer representative body with structures
in all the country-s major towns. Its work encompasses all
aspects of consumer issues as opposed to sector specific interests
like some organizations now trying to claim its place. The watchdog
has a very rich history, complemented by a huge possibility to do
better; it is however on the execution of its mandate where it has
fallen woefully short.
There have been
arguments in certain quarters that the CCZ could be more effective
if it were born through an act of Parliament.
It is often argued that this would give it added impetus and the
much-needed teeth to rein in, fine, sue or deal decisively with
those found wantonly contravening consumer laws. I do not agree
with this assertion because I truly believe that the CCZ does not
necessarily need to be a statutory body to be effective. The world
over, consumer organizations are by nature voluntary associations
and are rarely legal creatures. They derive their worth from organizing
consumers, making noise (vocal) on behalf of consumers, and being
relevant on consumer issues such that both government and industry
respect their views. They also rely on very strong advocacy and
lobbying competencies to influence government and Parliament to
make policies and laws that promote and protect interests of consumers.
Others go as far as testing products on behalf of consumers as a
way to sustain themselves.
South Africa has both state run and independent consumer organizations
so the huge task of protecting consumer does not single handedly
rest on the shoulders of one organization, as in this country. The
different consumer organizations complement each other-s work,
making the South African consumers among the best protected on the
continent. To use again the South African example, the country has
some of the most comprehensive consumer legislative and protective
frameworks in the region. Their catalogue of consumer protection
laws includes the Consumer Affairs Act Chapter 71 of 1988. The Act
is essentially oriented towards protecting the consumer and makes
provision for the prohibition of certain business practices, which
are regarded as unfair because they prejudice consumers. Through
the Act, a Consumer Affairs Committee is in place to deal with,
investigate and regulate any unfair business practices. There is
also the Traders Act of 1976 to protect consumers against misleading
advertising. Then they have the Consumer Protection Act, similar
to what the CCZ has been pushing government to enact for more than
a decade now. That alone probably shows how lacking the CCZ-s
advocacy and lobbying work is. In Zimbabwe, the CCZ has largely
been relying on antiquated consumer laws such as the Small Claims
Act of 1992, Consumer Contracts Act of 1994, the Competition Act
of 1996, Class Action Act Chapter 8.17, the Trade Measures Act,
and the Patients Charter among other obsolete acts, to enforce consumer
believe the passing of the Consumer Protection legislation could
usher in sweeping changes in the consumer protection framework in
this country, perhaps even giving the CCZ the teeth the public has
for far long accused it of lacking.
before in this article, I subscribe strongly to the viewpoint that
government has deliberately not committed itself to ensuring that
the CCZ functions to the best of its ability and capacity. Here
is why. Between 2005 and 2006, government through the Ministry of
Economic Development created the National Income and Pricing Commission
(NIPC). However, since formation, the NIPC has performed equally
identical tasks as those of the CCZ. These include:
price trends of goods and services through comprehensive surveys
and inspections on pricing and producing periodic price monitoring
corrective measures in cases of unscrupulous business practices
on the country-s pricing mechanisms.
government on the design of income structures and developments
in the economy with particular emphasis on the Poverty Datum Line
and minimum wage among other duties.
A look at the
above key duties of the NIPC shows that they compare similarly with
the mandate of the CCZ, meaning there is a clear duplication of
duties between these two organizations, which are both government
agencies whose very existence is funded for by financially burdened
taxpayers. The CCZ does monitor price trends, produces price surveys
twice every month. The CCZ also administers a complaints handling
department whose duty is to arbitrate cases between consumers and
service providers- again the same role as that of the NIPC of initiating
corrective measures in cases of unscrupulous business practices.
On the NIPC-s role of advising government, the CCZ also undertakes
this role through its family of six basket, which is widely used
by both government and industry for wage negotiations and planning.
Having said this, it begs the mind, why government, if it is serious
about the welfare of consumers should create two ineffective bodies
with exactly the same mandate, each of them depending on the treasury
for survival. At the time of writing this article, a visit to the
NIPC revealed that the institution, renowned more for the control
of prices of goods than anything else is doing nothing meaningful.
An enthusiastic woman I chatted with revealed to me that the statutory
body was doing absolutely nothing ever since the powers to fine
or prosecute businesses were stripped off them towards the end of
last year. To use her words, the NIPC was "now toothless."
just merge these two bodies, rebrand, and give life to a new potent,
financially well-backed watchdog. Surely, these two institutions
do the same thing. If all their resources were combined, imagine
what difference these could make to the millions of roughshod consumers
in this country, instead of the current half-baked and piecemeal
efforts by the two institutions, which by the way are going largely
Chibvuri is a writer and civic activist.
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