18 January 2013

Namibia: Consumer Lobby an Absolute Must


Namibia urgently needs a national consumer lobby backed by consumer inspectors and an Act of Parliament to protect its consumers.

In the present absence of a national consumer lobby - all consumers are left at the mercy of profiteering retailers who do not give a wink.

The disempowerment of consumers is unacceptable while the need for consumer protection has become an absolute necessity.

The lack of a consumer lobby is one of the reasons consumers are always treated distastefully and with contempt by shops that only want to fortify their profits.

Customer care does not exist in the vocabulary of many shops that lack customer etiquette and they forget customers are their heart and soul.

It is also a fact some shops stock all manner of expired foodstuffs, fully assured there is no one who would take them to task for this impropriety.

At times when the canned food is about to expire cunning supermarkets have also come up with a dubious strategy to dump these goods.

They often seduce unsuspecting consumers with the sales jargon: "Buy one for the price of two."

Shops would not do as they pleased if Namibia had proactive health inspectors who went from shop to shop seizing expired foodstuffs.

The exploitation of consumers has become the norm and even companies that were established recently in Namibia to reduce imports have not helped matters.

Because how do you explain the pricing discrepancy between a 500-gram pack of locally produced chicken going for N$17.90 compared to a similar imported chicken product going for N$14.90?

Or what justification is there for locally produced pasta being more expensive when compared to the cheaper import from South Africa? Is that what we call the "protection" of local consumers? Or is this simply a rip-off?

Or why should pilchards fished locally be more expensive as compared to the same can of pilchards imported from South Africa?

Also supermarkets stocking their own brands tend to price these products more expensively when compared to similar imported brands.

This does not make sense because if anything the imported products should have been more expensive because of the transportation costs.

The list is endless and one should go to any local supermarket to see the glaring discrepancies in prices that no doubt continue to make the rich filthy-rich and the poor extremely poor.

Namibia is a major beef producing country but to pay between N$55 to N$75 per kilogramme of non-prime cuts while beef sirloin steak costs N$93.99 per kilogramme is simply outrageous.

A 2-kg bag of potatoes goes for N$49.90, bananas are priced for N$18.90 per kg and avocados sell for up to N$12.00 each.

Government the other year implemented zero rating on the VAT of certain basic commodities such as maize meal, milk, sunflower, bread and sunflower oil. But as soon as government implemented VAT zero rating on these food items some supermarkets increased the prices of some of their items on the pretext "the supplier just increased their prices".

Unsuspecting consumers are enticed to buy vehicles with the so-called "no deposit" - the amount that is actually surreptitiously worked into wallet-busting instalments.

Zimbabwe and South Africa are among countries that have strong and functional consumer lobbies in southern Africa.

In this vein Namibia also needs a national consumer lobby and a law, infrastructure and manpower to enforce such a law.

The advantage of having a consumer lobby is that such a lobby will educate consumers on their rights in line with the United Nations Guidelines on the Protection of Consumers, which Namibia ratified.

In this globalised world, if Namibia is to have such an effective consumer law it will have to review it possibly from time to time because unlike fifty years ago things change on a daily basis, while globalisation has its own challenges.

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