Personal Finance

Easy steps to safeguard Kenya consumer rights

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Summary

  • Consumer rights are guaranteed under Article 46 of Kenya’s Constitution.
  • They are also statutory rights under the Consumer Protection Act, 2013 and the Competition Act, 2010.
  • Unfortunately, despite these legal provisions, Kenya has a high rate of consumer rights breaches.

Consumer rights are guaranteed under Article 46 of Kenya’s Constitution. They are also statutory rights under the Consumer Protection Act, 2013 and the Competition Act, 2010.

Unfortunately, despite these legal provisions, Kenya has a high rate of consumer rights breaches. Part II of the Consumer Protection Act highlights the rights ranging from access to quality goods, safety and protection from false advertising. Despite the existence of these rights on paper, consumers continue to suffer.

I will give a common example in online shopping. Say a customer orders for a product based on its representations in the advertisement. However, in the process of consuming the product or service, the consumer finds that there was a misrepresentation by the seller on the quality. What he bought differs from what he saw.

When the consumer seeks a refund or a remedy, the seller curtly cuts him off with “goods once sold are not refundable.” Does this consumer have a recourse? Indeed he ought to have a recourse under the Consumer Protection Act, breach of consumer rights being just one.

Consumer protection in Kenya continues to be a challenge for several reasons. The first is insufficient institutional capacity. Consumer protection is handled at departmental level by the Consumer Protection Department of the Competition Tribunal. There is also a Consumer Protection Committee established under the Consumer Protection Act.

In my view, this is not sufficient to handle issues of consumer protection in the country. While I am not calling for the establishment of a “Consumer Protection Agency” I believe that the entity charged with consumer protection, whether it be a department or standalone agency ought to be given a stronger mandate.

Institutional capacity needs to be built once a stronger mandate is issued. There should be a larger budgetary allocation and funding if the intention of Article 46 of the Constitution is to be realised. The strengthened institution can then hire more staff and have capacity building in the requisite areas.

The second reason, is that there is a general lack of awareness on consumer rights. This is evident on both the sellers and consumers. It baffles me when I observe some of the practices sellers hold on to despite them being a glaring breach of consumer rights. I am not aware of any State- run awareness programme. However, there are some sort of private run initiatives which are insufficient to address the problem.

Third, there is a lack of harmonisation of the laws and regulations on consumer rights. While the standalone statute exists, issues of consumer protection are contained in many diverse laws and are also enforced by several agencies. There is also a low level of inter-agency collaboration. For instance when one buys a substandard good, then he has several options to recover. He can lodge a complaint at the Kenya Bureau Of Standards or file a suit for compensation. He ought to be able to file a single complaint with a consumer agency for investigation and enforcement.

A lot more needs to be done to uphold consumer rights in Kenya. Around 2008 after intense lobbying, Kenya set up an Anti-Counterfeit Agency whose mandate was to fight counterfeiting in the country. I propose a similar approach to consumer protection. Strengthen institutional capacity and mandates so as to protect consumers.