CFTC to lead Malawians in commemoration of World Consumer Rights Day on March 15

Malawians are being invited to join the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFTC) on Wednesday, March 15 to commemorate this year’s World Consumer Rights Day at Mponela Trading Centre in Dowa — which comes with an appropriate theme: ‘Be an empowered consumer, know your rights and obligations’.

Thus the CFTC inviting consumers, traders and other stakeholders in commemorate the important day, which was set aside “to celebrate and show solidarity within the international consumer movement”, as said by CFTC Executive Director, Lloyds Vincent Nkhoma.

“Participants observe the day by promoting the basic rights of all consumers and demanding that those rights are respected and protected.

“These celebrations emanate from the speech made to the United States Congress on March 15, 1962, by President John F. Kennedy in which he extolled four basic consumer rights, later called the Consumer Bill of Rights.

“The United Nations, through the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, expanded these into eight rights — namely right to safety, right to be informed, right to choose, right to be heard, right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to redress, right to consumer education and right to healthy environment.

CFTC Executive Director Nkhoma

“Thereafter, Consumers International adopted these rights as a charter and started recognizing March 15 as World Consumer Rights Day.”

Nkhoma added that the commemoration in Mponela will be presided over by Minister of Trade & Industry, Simplex Chithyola Banda from 08.30hrs with a parade from SMEDI Engen Filling Station to Mponela grounds where there will be speeches, traditional dances, comedies, music, poetry and competitions.

Nkhoma also reiterated CFTC’s call to all consumers “to stand up for their rights by reporting any unfair trading practices through its toll-free line 2489; and assures all consumers that all abusers of consumer rights will be dealt with as provided for under the Competition and Fair Trading Act and Consumer Protection Act.

Former US President John F. Kennedy

At a media interface a fortnight ago where he was unveiled as the new CFTC executive director, Nkhoma said in order to move with the times, the Commission together with its legal authorities and all other stakeholders, are reviewing the Competition and Fair Trade Act — which is at an advanced stage — that gives the institution “an opportunity to put in place solid tools for identifying and breaking cartel conduct, which is the most serious conduct in terms of impeding consumer welfare”.

The review of the CFTA is long overdue also for the set fine of K500,000 which was enacted in 2013 and was stiff enough then, but some big corporate businesses can just be opting to pay the meagre fine and continue carrying out unfair trading practices.

When an offender is found guilty, the penalties — under the Competition and Fair Trading Act (CFTA) — provides that they shall be liable to a fine of K500,000 and 5 year jail term, but this is a little fine for big business habitual offenders, who need to be given stiffer punishments in order to address the malpractices by most public service providers.

At the media interface, Nkhoma highlighted some of the track records the Commission has concluded since its mandate in the past decade, that include improved advocacy and awareness which saw the number of complaints received drastically going up — rising from about 10 in 2013 to over 300 in a year.

“This year alone, the Commission has received over 332 complaints on unfair trading practices and recovered about K42 million, which has been refunded to consumers for different violations.

“The Commission has investigated and made orders on many restrictive business conduct in sectors such as public transport, private schools, sugar distribution, insurance, telecommunications, and other sectors.

“We have also conducted market studies which have made great policy recommendations such as in the poultry sector study; manufacturing; pharmaceutical; agricultural; wholesale; education and transport sectors.”

In terms of mergers, Nkhoma said CFTC has investigated both local and regional mergers in collaboration with other partners such as the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) — and that in awareness and sensitisation, “the institution has covered the entire country with workshops, targeted sensitization meetings, school clubs interaction, among others”.

“The institution also continues to carry out price monitoring for essential commodities such as cooking oil, bread, AIP fertilizer and in order to enhance accessibility, we have opened a new regional office in Mzuzu to ensure that it serves traders and consumers in the Northern Region better.

“As a way forward, we want to do more in areas of cartel enforcement. This is a country where more of the production and supply sectors are concentrated and prone to cartel conduct such as price fixing, market allocation, bid rigging and other vices.”

During the commemoration of the 2022 World Competition Day in December — whose theme was ‘Competition Policy and Misuse of Market Power’ — CFTC Commissioner Dr. Zacc Kawalala also tackled on challenges faced by business cartels.

He had said many business enterprises, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs), are facing several challenges that emanate from abusive or anticompetitive conducts by enterprises who hold market power.

He, however, emphasized that it is not prohibited for enterprises to have market power but it becomes the Commission’s concern when an enterprise uses that power to influence the market dynamics to the detriment of competitors.

“For example, in some situations, an enterprise with market power may prevent or restrict a competitors’ access to an essential input. This restriction may prevent competitors from competing with a particular enterprise on their merits.”

He thus appealed to enterprises — especially those with market power — “to cease and desist from using that power to restrict entry of other players in the industry; to prevent other enterprises from conducting their businesses competitively; to influence upward trend of prices or to regulate sales quotas by individual enterprises.”

The CFTC — that holds its existence from the Competition and Fair Trading Act (CFTA) — regulates, monitors, controls and prevents acts or behaviours which are likely to adversely affect competition and fair trading in Malawi.

It also addresses anti-competitive business practices as well as unfair trading practices that have detrimental effects on consumers and Nkhoma emphasized that as they discharge our duties, they are always mindful that they have a role to enhance private sector dynamism as per the dictates of MW2063.

For more information on the commemoration of the World Consumer Rights Day at Mponela, the consumers, traders and stakeholders are encouraged to contact public relations officer, Innocent Helema on +265 880 725 075 or email at [email protected] or [email protected].

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