28 February 2013

Namibia: Hage Geingob Must Keep His Promises


It is not the minerals of Namibia on the south west coast of Africa that makes the country special. No. It is the tolerance of its people. After more than a century of colonial rule and racial segregation it is a role model of cultural assimilation while maintaining multiculturalism. This interculturalism appreciates the qualities of our various cultures, within a framework of universal human rights. The intercultural social contract practised in Namibia expects us to give authority to not only political and civil rights, but also to give a legal framework for the economic, social and cultural rights of all our people.

To paraphrase Julius Nyerere, we have to "face the basic fact that human values can only be measured in regard to individual human beings. The Government is properly instituted among men not to secure the material or cultural advantages of a few, but to promote the rights and welfare of the many."

Three year ago, on March 15 2010 (World Consumer Day), the then Minister of Trade and Industry Hage Geingob, promised in a speech read on his behalf that a Consumer Protection Act will be submitted to Parliament within one year. Since then Geingob has moved on to become Prime Minister and is poised to become our next President in 2015. With Consumer Day again being celebrated on March 15 this year, there is however still no sign of the promised Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

This year, the theme of World Consumer Day is 'Consumer Justice Now'. As Namibians we must push for our legislature to put in place a CPA as soon as possible as good consumer protection is not only about legislation, but it can also deliver justice, create a fairer society and even save lives. The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) act as an international reference point of the consumer movement and can be understood to be:

the right to the satisfaction of basic needsthe right to safetythe right to be informedthe right to choosethe right to be heardthe right to redressthe right to consumer educationthe right to a healthy environment.

I have made a short list of the main issues I believe should be included in the Consumer Protection legislation:

  • Consumers have the right to cancel a reservation or pre-booking for any goods or services and to cancel any order for any goods or services.
  • Consumers may cancel a fixed-term agreement (of any term) at any time.
  • Suppliers must provide a quote or estimate prior to working on any goods.

The rendering of services or the goods required to perform any service must be in a manner and of a quality that persons are generally entitled to expect and be free of any defect.

The CPA must impose strict liability on producers, importers, distributors or retailers to supply safe goods and imposes strict liability in respect of product failure, defective and hazardous goods.

A mandatory three-month warranty period must be imposed on service providers who install any new or reconditioned part during repair or maintenance work.

A consumer is entitled to return unsafe or defective goods, including goods that are not of a good quality.

A consumer who is the recipient of unsolicited goods or services is not obliged to pay for such goods or services.

Consumer must have the right to cancel a transaction or agreement emanating from direct marketing.

Goods or services must not be promoted in a misleading, fraudulent or deceptive manner.

The CPA should also create a small claims court for matters under N$ 50 000.

Lastly, and most importantly, the legislation should create and support national consumer organisations to promote and provide consumer education.

These are issues that have been talked about with the Ministry of Trade and Industry officials and various national forums, but no concrete action has taken place.

I hope the Right Honourable Dr Geingob will hear my plea and keep his promise to get our consumer legislation submitted to Parliament as soon as possible.

Milton Louw is an author, consumer activist and socio-political entrepreneur.

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