OPINIONPeople Daily

Protecting consumer welfare in digital era

Wang’ombe Kariuki

The effective application of competition laws and policies in any jurisdiction ultimately benefits consumers through competitive pricing and a wider choice of goods and services that are of better quality and standards.

Protection of consumer rights remains an uphill task globally, mainly because consumers are ill-informed about their rights or avenues through which they can enforce them.

Article 46 of the Constitution provides that consumers have a right to goods and services of reasonable quality; right to information for them to gain full benefit from goods and services; right to the protection of their health, safety, and economic interests. Consumers also have the right to compensation for loss or injury arising from defective goods or services.

The Competition Act, 2010 augments the Constitution by giving the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) the mandate of investigating and remedying consumer welfare violations arising from, among others, false or misleading representations, undue influence or pressure, or sale of defective or unsafe goods.

While enforcement of consumer rights remains challenging, Kenya has recorded tremendous progress. A major achievement by CAK is the increased sensitisation of consumers on their rights and channels of recourse when they are aggrieved.

As a result, the number of consumer complaints registered during the year to June 2018 increased by 66 per cent compared to the previous year. A majority of the cases were from the retail, telecommunication and banking sectors.

Five years ago, the authority, which was still in its formative years, used to process less than 20 complaints annually. This Financial Year, CAK has handled more than 150 cases, the highest since its formation.

Investigations into business conduct that violates consumer rights have also increased. CAK’s medium-term focus is prioritising inquiries into key sectors of the economy that have been earmarked as key to achieving the government’s Big Four agenda.

The authority has also increased efforts to empower consumer bodies. While the organisations cannot investigate complaints, they are a good avenue through which consumers can submit their grievances to the authority. Supporting  them to empower consumers is, therefore, a priority.

One of the ways CAK has been able to increase awareness about its consumer protection mandate is through sensitisation forums across the country targeting various stakeholders.

The World Consumer Rights Day, which is marked annually on March 15, is one of the avenues through which the authority has managed to raise awareness levels about consumer rights and protection. This year’s theme is “Better and Secure Digital Products”.

In our increasingly connected world, consumers purchase and use smart products such as smartphones, smart TVs, and wearable fitness trackers, among others. Research from Business Insider shows that by 2020, there will be over 24 billion Internet-connected devices installed globally. To put it into context, there will be about four devices for every person on earth.

Statistics from the sector regulator indicate that Kenya had 42.2 million Internet users as of last September. Smart devices have brought with them convenience. They receive, collect and send out data, oftentimes automatically and without the user’s knowledge or approval.

The proliferation of smart technology also raises concerns hacking and emission of rays, among other setbacks, which may cause health-related complications.

CAK, in collaboration with Nyeri county government, will today congregate various stakeholders involved in protecting consumers at the Dedan Kimathi Grounds in Nyeri to mark the World Consumer Rights Day.

Previously, the event has been commemorated in Nairobi, Machakos, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisii counties.

Consumers will be sensitised on how they can effectively use their smart devices while staying safe and secure. CAK commits to continue playing its role of enforcing their rights. – The writer is Competition Authority of Kenya director general

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