Saturday, May 9, 2009

Consumer Education Essential to Curb Unfair Trade Practices

By Eric Toroka
Business Times; Friday, 10-16 October, 2008

For quiet sometime, fuel consumers in Tanzania have bee victims of unfair practice by thieving traders who temper with scales and measurements in various petroleum stations. And on several occasions they never notice that hey are being robbed, and even when they know, they don’t know where to go assistance.

Another problem faced by consumers is adulteration-mixing fuel with kerosene, which compromises quality, leading to increased costs of maintenance and repair of vehicles. In response to such situations, some fuel consumers have opted to purchases fuel in light containers to avoid being cheated.

Worse still, there are about four government sect oral regulatory authorities and agencies in controlling and coordination of fuel and fuel business. These include Tanzania Bureau of Standards, Energy Water and Utility Regulatory Authority (UWURA), Weight and Measurement Agency (WMA) and Fair Competition Commission (FCC).

Despite the existence of the above regulatory bodies, consumer abuse and violation of their rights is still on the rise and is affecting dearly the economic welfare of many consumers in the country.

According to Tanzania Consumer Advocacy Society (TCAS), Executive Director, Bernard Kihiyo, most of these regulatory bodies lack the capacity to investigate, litigate and monitor the increasing consumer abuses among fuel suppliers and service providers in the market. He says that all of them are still understaffed and lack resources to perform their duties such as consumer protection all over this country.

TBS for instance, he said that TBS deals with quality control in this respect, EWURA with fuel business regulation, weight and measurement agency with monitoring of calibration in support of EWURA, FCC ensure fair conducts such on the part of consumers and deals in the market.

He warned that no matter how strict the inspection on quality, regulation, and measurement could be, it is impossible to inspect all the time given the weaknesses still prevailing in the regulatory bodies.

“The only best backup solution to this is to build a society of well-informed and knowledgeable consumers who can report for any problem to the respective authorities for action, he said.

He said that all the above authorities are not well known to the majority of consumers, whom he said are also ignorant of the roles these regulatory bodies play in protecting their rights.

“These authorities should give relevant consumer education and sensitise the public on complaint procedures and give contact information in case consumers needs their assistance,” he said.

His advice that telephone numbers of these authorities’ consumer complaints departments must be placed at each dispensing station. Through this way consumers will supplement the gaps of most of these authorities by reporting any discrepancy found in the market.

TCAS is working toward supplementing government efforts by giving consumer education on changing consumer behaviour and altitude toward their feeling of powerlessness through advocating for economic justice and their consumer rights.

He said that his organization (TCAS) is in support of the idea that fuel traders at petrol stations be obliged to apply transparent pipes instead of the current black ones that are a majority source of cheating.

Additionally, he said there must be deliberate efforts by the government to strengthen regulatory institutions and building their capacity to deliver the intended goals. If these authorities work to their full capacities, they will contribute enormously to reduction in acts which lead to the marginalization of the poor to acquire their economic potentials and hence help to alleviate poverty.

TCAS works on promoting access of citizens to information on product safety, and advises them on where to go fight for their rights, as well as promoting wide public discussion on challenges facing consumers in Tanzania. “TCAS works on supplementing government efforts of working toward emergence of knowledgeable consumers in the market.”

Kihiyo said that its only when consumers are educated, treated equally and fairly into all economic forums and there be equitable growth, that the problem of consumer exploitation will be solved.

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