11 October 2018 | Ekonomie

Students advocate for consumer rights

NDAMA NAKASHOLE

A group of final-year law students at the University of Namibia (Unam) find it worrying that Namibia does not have a consumer rights law in place and that customer is not king in Namibia.

As a result, Lon Fuller Associates, which is a group of 15 final-year law students, hosted a consumer rights seminar on 29 September.

In an interview with Market Watch last week, the group’s spokesperson, Michael Hamukwaya, said they had noted with great concern that because of the absence of this law, local consumers are taken advantage of.

They gave an example of an investigative article done in South Africa where companies produce items such as honey with misleading labels creating the impression that the honey is 100% pure.

“Imagine being in Namibia and you are buying this with an impression it’s 100% natural as some people use it for medication… in the absence of a consumer protection Act, it is bad for the consumer. However, South Africa is different because there they have a consumer protection Act,” he said.

According to him, consumers in Namibia can’t stand up for their rights without legal recourse and because of this, one always has to go to the Namibian constitution.

“If you bought that from a supermarket, you must be able to hold them accountable. Where else can you go?” he said.

Because of this, the students brought to the seminar officials from different industry regulators and invited members of the public to engage with them.

Hamukwaya said although there are regulating bodies such as communications regulator CRAN, Namibia does not have a unified consumer protection Act.

“Some organisations such as CRAN …a consumer can approach them if MTC does not satisfy them. They first have to approach MTC. They are more of the mother body. Same with the banking sector, where a consumer first have to approach the bank and if the bank does not help, then they have to approach the central bank,” he said.

He also said that the ombudsman has a huge role to play. The Namibian Standards Institution (NSI) is another big player in the consumer rights segment.

“There are still things that we can do while we are waiting for an Act,” he said, adding that the information they got from the trade ministry is that the consumer protection policy is with parliament.

For a good cause

As part of their final-year project, the Unam law students were divided into groups and instructed to carry out a project that focuses on giving legal assistance to the community.

“Anywhere where we can impact the community in a legal way,” said Karin, another group member.

“We have decided to go for consumer rights. As a consumer you have several rights that are supposed to be accorded to you,” she said.

According to her, they chose this route after watching a South African investigative report on companies mislabelling products as pure honey.

“The concern in Namibia is that we don’t have an Act in place that protects a consumer from those types of things. We want to see why the government has not come up with an Act,” she said.

Hamukwaya said a consumer rights Act is as important as a labour Act.

“Imagine having to work in a country which does not have a labour Act,” he said.

Data

In a few weeks’ time, the group will release the results of a survey they carried out as part of their project.

The group set up stands at Unam, China Town and Khomas Grove Mall where they asked consumers questions.

“A while ago I met someone who said they bought a machine at China Town and when they got home it was not working and when they took it back the following day, they were apparently told that it was none of the seller’s business,” Karin said.

“That is why we hose China Town as one of the places where we could place our stand to hand out questionnaires,” she added.

The questions included whether the consumer knows where to go in case their consumer rights have been violated and whether they are aware of their consumer rights.

Giving back

The project was made possible by an FNB cash donation of N$5 000, a PPS cash donation of N$2 000, and a TV set from Lewis furnishers. The Western Suburbs rugby club let them host the seminar in its hall for free.

Using the remaining funds, the group donated two pallets of bricks to Upliftment Project Namibia (UPN), an organisation aiming to improve the standard of early childhood education in impoverished communities.

Through UPN, the bricks were donated to United Hope for Development Pre-Primary School in Havana, Katutura.