By Yusupha M Jarjusey
The above subject is of great concern to me over the years and I am glad that you allow me space in your widely read news paper to publish this article.
It is true that the Gambia has what is called Consumer Protection Association of the Gambia (CPAG) which according to World Consumers’ Association (WCA) website, was created in July 2004 as the first Consumer organization at national level and dedicated to promote and safeguard the interest and rights of Gambian Consumers. This association is also expected to be responsive to the needs and welfare of consumers in the country.
It is also true that there is the Gambia Consumer Protection Act, 2014, the aim of which is to protect consumers from unfair and misleading market conducts. The government of the Gambia also in recent years established the Gambia Competitive and Consumer Protection Commission (GCCPC) whose main functions according to the Gambia Consumer Protection ACT (2014) and In addition to its functions under the Competition Act are among other things to:
Ø establish a directorate responsible for consumer protection;
Ø conduct investigations into consumer complaints;
Ø appoint officers who shall receive and process complaints for submission to the Tribunals;
Ø advocate and facilitate the mainstreaming of consumer protection issues in national policies and programmes;
Ø formulate policy and legislative proposals in respect of consumer welfare issues;
Ø undertake consumer education and information programmes;
Ø conduct or commission research on consumer protection issues;
Ø sensitize and provide advice to consumers on their rights and duties under this Act;
Ø provide information on any dangerous goods and services that might harm consumers to the competent authorities for appropriate action;
Ø Provide funding for the functioning of the Tribunals.
The question is how far the above institutions and polices have gone in actually making life easier and better for the consumers in the Gambia with the volatile and mostly inflationary situation of prices and poor quality of goods and services at the detriment of final consumers in the Gambia.
In any case, my focus in this article will be on the performance of the existing Consumer Protection Association of the Gambia (CPAG) since 2004. According to my observation and analysis, this Association has been very dormant to the extent that you hardly felt their existence in the Gambia. The only time they are active is during the International Consumer Association day celebration, which is usually marked by match pass with no meaningful slogan to attract attention. This makes me wonder whether their existence is of any significant value to the people who really require their support. The Consumer Protection Association of the Gambia (CPAG) in a nutshell, is supposed to ensure that the above Act and Commission’s mandate are implemented to the fullest for the benefit of the citizenry.
Let me say that consumer Associations world over are doing wonderful works that impact the life of a common man in the street in such a remarkable way that they are well know and very much appreciated. Those associations are very active and effectively engage the government and other institutions like GCCPC through advocacy, dialogue and awareness creation against profiteering and other forms of ungodly attitudes and behaviours towards consumers in those countries. Those evil attitudes are in fact more common in countries like the Gambia where silence culture is the order of the day. Gambians will therefore be willing and ready to support such initiatives if their activities are made known to them and will very much appreciate their efforts for a better Gambia especially in this new dispensation.
It is indeed high time to condemn some of the illegal and irresponsible behaviours that are potentially creating havoc on our people. I recalled on the 10th of June 2016 when The Point Newspaper editorial published a story from a Guinean Researcher and Medical doctor called Gaeoussou Fadiga who blamed the rise in kidney failure in Africa on the use of expired drugs from Europe. It was also reported in the same article that 42% of pharmaceutical drugs eliminated from the European market in 2012 were sold in Africa according to Fadiga. In fact in the Gambia here, there is a popular notion among some health workers that expired drugs can be used for up to six months after their expiration dates as they remain viable.
The electrical shops in the Gambia are selling different types and brands of electric wires in the market and some of them are described as British or Chinese products. What are we doing about the safety of the consumers especially in the wake of current destructive fire outbreaks due to poor electrical installations at our homes and at public places like markets? The price of cement for example has just increased by 27.65% from January to February (D235.00 to D300.00) with no official explanation.
Our Gambian markets today are full of substandard products both food and non-food items with very poor quality standards that are affecting our health and wellbeing. These products expose people to high risk and eventually cost individual’s huge amounts of money when they become victims of circumstances and had no choice but to restore to normalcy. These are unfortunate but sad realities of the life we continue to live in this part of the world and indeed unfortunate that nobody is there to speak for consumers in the Gambia when their fundamental rights are violated and resources wasted. There is indeed, serious dissatisfaction among consumers all over the country but sadly, no formal platform or forum exist to lunch complains. The Consumer Association must therefore, be able to at least create that environment to ensure the basic protection of consumers to enjoy the first principle of procurement called Best Value for Money (BVM) and most importantly enjoy healthy life.
In brief, I would like to highlight some of the achievements made by a consumer association in Zimbabwe. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) carries out regular price surveys, which enables it to monitor price trends of commodities. From these findings, a family of six baskets for a low income urban earner is produced. They also act as watchdog and represent consumers by influencing government to enact laws that protect them, thus creating a platform for fair trading practices. Consumer education is one of the core competencies of the CCZ. The organization goes out to educate consumers on their rights and responsibilities through lectures, articles and advice in the print and electronic media, discussions, workshops, seminars to enable consumers to make informed decisions in the market place. The CCZ handles a diversity of complaints between consumers and service providers and by so doing acts as an arbitrator between disputing parties. It also assists consumers to get redress whenever they are prejudiced in trade. In areas where it cannot help, the organization refers the cases to the Small Claims Court or lawyers or any such other places where consumers can be assisted.
The Government of the Gambia may put in place policies and mechanisms to ensure the basic rights of it citizens are protected. However, merely formulating polices without full implementation to serve the intended purpose render them useless. Therefore, having a Consumer Protection Act (2014) in place is indeed a laudable initiative but certainly not good enough without its full implementation as that failure cost the government even more in terms of health care provision, low productively and ultimately impact our GDP. There is therefore the need to effectively implement food safety standards and other standards for other goods imported into the country to ensure protection and welfare of the people.
The Gambia Consumer Competitive Protection Commission (GCCPC) should also be more effective and proactive in the discharge of the responsibilities they are empowered to execute as stated above. Promoting fair competition is indeed a very important element and principle of procurement but ultimately most serve the interest of the consumers.
In my next article, I will draw my lenses closer to the market to indentify the specific products and suppliers that we need to focus on for the health and wellbeing of the Gambian people.