The Sunday News

Dumisani Nsingo in Bulawayo and Harmony Agere in Harare

UNSCRUPULOUS businesspeople that engage in multi-tier pricing, charge unfair prices or display unpriced goods will now face prosecution after President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed the Consumer Protection Bill into law last week.

This comes amid concerns from the consumers that they were being ripped by businesses through a sophisticated multi-tier pricing regime which is in violation of the Bank Use Promotion Act. 

Consumers are also now entitled to be fully refunded for defective or sub-standard goods as espoused in the new law that replaced the Consumer Contracts Act. Aggrieved consumers can now individually approach the courts for redress or refer their complaints to the Consumer Protection Commission, which will be born out of the new Act.

According to the new law — published in an extraordinary Government Gazette dated December 10 2019 — unfair pricing practices will attract a level five fine ($600) or imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months, or both.

“Whereupon more than one price is advertised or displayed concurrently, the lowest shall be considered as the price of the goods or service,” reads the act.

Other offences that attract deterrent penalties include fraudulent offers, failure to label products properly and the disclosure of consumers’ personal information to third parties.

The new regulations, which have been described by market players as in line with international best practice, will be enforced by the Consumer Protection Commission through investigators and inspectors who will be deployed across the country.

The commission will be aided by consumer advocacy organisations such as the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) who, through a Statutory Instrument that would be crafted, will be designated to conduct conciliation and arbitration of disputes between parties.

A Consumer Protection Fund will be established concurrently with the commission to fund its operations.

Automatic Warranty Under the new Act, consumers may automatically enjoy six months implied warranty for certain goods or services they purchase, which means they can now return goods to the supplier and receive a full refund of the amount they paid if the goods fail to satisfy the purpose communicated to the supplier.

“In any transaction or agreement pertaining to the supply of goods or services to a consumer, there is an implied provision that the producer, importer, distributor or the retailer each warrant the goods or services comply with the requirements and standards,” reads part of the Act.

It adds: “Within six months after the delivery of any goods to a consumer, the consumer may return the goods to the supplier, without penalty and at the supplier’s risk and expense, if the goods fail to satisfy the requirements and standards.”

The law further provides that a supplier, at the direction of the consumer, shall repair or replace the failed, unsafe or defective goods or refund the consumer the amount paid for the goods.

“If a supplier repairs any particular goods or any component of any such goods, and within three months a further failure, defect or unsafe feature is discovered, the supplier at his or her expense shall replace the goods or refund the consumer the amount paid by the consumer for the goods.”

In addition, for repaired goods, a service provider warrants every new or reconditioned part installed during any repair or maintenance work, and the labour required to install it, for a period of six months after the date of installation or such period as the service provider may specify in writing.

CCZ executive director Ms Rosemary Siyachitema described the Act as a milestone in protecting the interests of the consumer.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu said such kind of legislation “was long overdue”.

A survey carried out in Bulawayo revealed that the retailers were now giving a discount for goods purchased using cash in what economic analysts said was not fair.

 “When consumers are being given discounts, we are happy with that as long as the discounts that are offered are genuine. What we disregard is when the discount is only offered to one who uses cash as the mode of payment while on the other hand the price is high when using other modes of payment . . . ,” said Consumer Council of Zimbabwe Matabeleland regional manager Mr Comfort Muchekeza.

For instance at one big retail in Bulawayo a 10-kilogramme (kg) of roller meal costs $35 in cash and $50 in electronic payments, 2 litres cooking oil is priced at $45 cash and $65 in mobile money or swipe and a 2kg packet of sugar is pegged at $25 cash while in plastic money it costs $34.

Mr Muchekeza said there was nothing CCZ can do as it had no power to effect price controls but the current law is expected to see a semblance of normalcy in the retailing sector.

“There is not much we can do as Council as there is no price control Bill in the country currently. The President has just signed the Consumer Protection Bill into law and as from January we will be going around sensitising consumers about this law and how it will protect them as consumers,” he said.

National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy advisor, Mr Effie Ncube said punitive measures should be taken against businesses which are fleecing consumers under the guise of offering them discounts. 

“Some well-known supermarkets have a discount price for cash and an exorbitant price for electronic transactions. As Nacora we condemn the conduct as it is unethical and smacks of corruption and illegal business practice that needs to be severely punished.

“This cruel conduct undermines the integrity of electronic transactions and tears down the confidence of consumers with it. More broadly, it amounts to refusing lawful electronic transactions and punishing those without cash. Government should immediately step in and protect consumers,” he said.