Consumer protection law is on the table

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Two weeks ago I was contacted by a consumer complaining about a freezer that they purchased but which is already broken after a few weeks. The customer was very upset as the store wished to come and fix the broken freezer and not replace it. Unfortunately for the client there is no consumer act in place and the store has the right to fix the freezer rather than replace it.

The problem for this consumer was the misunderstanding between the term “warranty” and “guarantee.” Most of us would expect that when we purchase a product, the warranty – or the written guarantee – issued by the manufacturer of a product will include a provision to replace the product within a specified period of time. The problem comes when we do not read the fine print when doing the purchase.
In this consumer’s case the warranty issued by the manufacturer promised to repair or replace it if necessary within a specified period of time. The store was thus correct in first offering to have the freezer repaired and only if they did not fix the problem, will they replace the freezer. Unfortunately the Consumer Court cannot do anything to assist the consumer and she will have to accept that the “new freezer” is now a “fixed freezer”.

The good news is that consumers in Namibia will soon have recourse through a Consumer Protection Bureau that will be established under the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

In addition, a Consumer Advisory Board will be established with “at least half of the members to be individuals with recognised experience or expertise in advocating for consumers, studying issues related to consumer protection, or with demonstrated commitment to regulation of marketplace activity in the interests of consumers”. The draft law has been shared with consumer advocates, business associations and other regulatory organisations for their inputs at a two-day workshop.

The law also goes hand in hand with a National Consumer Policy and is based on prohibition against unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices.

By “unfairness”, it refers to when an unfair balance occurs between the rights of the consumer and the rights of the seller. It also will allow for more control of the transaction by the consumer. The “deceptive” refers to sellers who are misleading consumers about the actual price of goods or the actual discount amount, advertising products not intending to be sold as advertised, representing that goods are of a certain origin or brand when they are not, and similar conduct are all considered deceptive sales practices.
“Abusive acts or practices” are based on the seller taking unreasonable advantage of a consumer’s ignorance, vulnerability or dependence on the seller.

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