CFTC advises consumers to monitor unfair trading practices habitual offenders

Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) is appealing to the public not to relent in monitoring and reporting offenders, who have previously been found guilty in unfair trading practices but are continuing their unfair practices.
The call was made when the government consumer watchdog and protector engaged members of the media in Blantyre last week, asking the Fourth Estate to also be on high alert.

Itimu engaging with the journalists
CFTC’s acting Executive Director, Apoche Itimu said if found, such habitual offenders need to be given stiffer punishments in order to address the malpractices by most public service providers.
When found guilty the penalties, under the Competition and Fair Trading Act (CFTA), provides that as person guilty of an offence under CFTA shall be liable to a fine of K500,000 and 5 year jail term.
Itimu said while the Government approved reforms to introduce on-spot fines for any consumer violations, the Commission is in the process of reviewing the Act to effect some proposed fines.
She said the set fine was enacted in 2013 and was stiff enough then but some big corporate businesses can just opt to pay the meagre fine and continue carrying out unfair trading practices.
Thus the need to identify habitual offenders to for stiffer punishments under review by the Commission.
Unfair trade practices — as defined in Section 2 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) — is carrying out a trade or business practice which adopts unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice for the purpose of promoting the sale, use, supply or provision of goods and services.
Section 43 of the Competition and Fair Trading Act (CFTA) prohibits unfair trading practices that include hoarding/withholding products; excluding liability for defective goods; goods once purchased are not returnable; misrepresentation of products; sale of counterfeit products; misleading conduct; shelf price different from till price; unclear wholesale/retail price details.
Others include unconscionable conduct; unfair consumer contracts; taking undue advantage of power imbalance; supply of harmful products and goods that do not meet standards as well as expired; substandard and uncertified products.
Misleading advertising is also described as unfair trading practices as well as not displaying prices of products; quoting prices in foreign currency; non-issuance of receipts and non-tax compliant receipts.
Malawi developed Competition Policy in 1997 and in 1998, Parliament enacted the CFTA while the Commission (CFTC) was established, in 2012-13, under the CFTA.
Consumers asked to check if prices match at the till

Over the years, the Commission has recorded over 1,000 cases and rising with some businesses found guilty more than once —  thus CFTC asking the public to continue reporting for possible habitual offenders.

Itimu emphasized that while they also conduct market surveillances in markets to ensure that the law is being followed, the public can alert CFTC through Toll free line 2489.
She also said they do engage people, that include those in rural areas through business clinics as well as utilising community radios to sensitise the public on need to be checking products before they buy.
The case of shelf price different from till price is common amongst supermarkets managed by Malawians of Asian community, who justify their actions, saying prices of products keep rising on daily basis due to the current economic situation the country is facing.
But in May last year, Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) warned consumers to be alert when they go shopping, saying some unscrupulous traders are charging different prices at the till than those displayed on shelves.
In a public notice CAMA contended that most traders had taken advantage of the current economic downturn — coupled
with the effects of CoVID-19, which have created scarcities and price increases on some goods and services.
CAMA Executive Director, John Kapito observed price increases were “unjustifiable and pure theft with no better economic explanations and some are tampering with weights and contents of their packages”.
Thus Kapito said it is “important and incumbent upon every consumer to seriously carry out a market surveillance on prices and quality of the goods”, adding that it is the consumers’ “responsible to aware of the prices and quality of products that they are buying from the market”.
Just like CFTC, Kapito emphasised that the public must check the shelf prices and contents and compare them when paying at the till as most shops charge different prices on the till than those displayed on the shelves.
He had observed that most consumers do not bother to be assertive or being alert and thus some traders taking advantage of that.
At the media engagement, CFTC also highlighted what CAMA had warned the consumers on, that there is a growing tendency among certain shops that do not give back change.
CFTC also emphasized what Kapito also told consumers — that they must insist to always demanding the change back — “no matter how small it might be”.
Overall mandate of CFTC is to regulate, monitor, control and prevent acts or behaviour which are likely to adversely affect competition and fair trading in Malawi while specific functions are:
* To carry out investigations on anti-competitive trade practices or unfair trading practices;
* To carry out investigations on a proposed merger;
To prevent or redress the abuse of a dominant position by an enterprise;
* To provide persons engaged in business with information regarding their rights and duties under this Act;
* To provide information for the guidance of consumers regarding their rights;
* To undertake studies and make available public reports;
*To cooperate with and assist any association or body of persons to develop and promote the observance of standards of conduct for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the provisions of this Act;
Any person can lodge a complaint with the Commission provided there is evidence in which CFTC investigates the complaint and may mediate for settlement between consumers and traders; order traders to give refund or exchange; issue Cease and Desist Order; issue company behavioural remedies and t dismiss case if not meeting any violations.

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