This week, the state owned newspaper, DailyNews carried a story about certain retailers who were fined for violating the Food Control Act. The story carried under the headline “KASANE RETAILERS FACE WRATH OF LAW” reveals how several retailers in the Chobe District were fined for failure to keep clean business premises.
According to the story, during the operation, carried out by Botswana Police, BURS, Bye Law and Consumer Affairs amongst others, Kasane Spar Supermarket was fined P3, 000 for failure to keep its environment clean in violation of the Food Control Act. It is said that cockroaches were found in the restaurant and employees were found handling food without medical certificates and personal protective clothing.
The supermarket was also charged after it was found trading with an expired trading licence. Goods such as meat loaves, fizzy drinks, concentrated fruit juice, maize meal were also found to have expired, but still displayed on the shelves.
Not to miss in action, it was reported that the leading retailer in the country, Choppies was also found guilty of selling damaged products and fined P1 000. The retailer was also ordered to remove the damaged goods from the shelves. After cockroaches, rats and cats were found in respective kitchens and storerooms of these retailers and others which were searched, the key question is whether the amount charged is sufficient. Will the P1000 charged on Choppies and P3000 levied on Spar really teach these retailers a lesson? Or it’s just formality? Will these flimsy fines hurt the retailers financially, seeing as they make millions in annual profits? Will the fine deter these retailers from selling expired goods, or will they continue risking the lives of innocent Batswana by selling dirty and expired foodstuffs with the full assurance that their trading licences will not be revoked?
Given what happened in Kasane and what we believe is happening throughout the country, including in the capital Gaborone, it is quite clear that for our people are being taken for a ride. We have to realize that most Batswana are under-privilege and they need to acquire goods, especially food, at cheap rates. Therefore they have little consideration for safety or health. And we all know which stores offer better prices in this country. That is why they continue buying there.
After the recent campaign in Kasane, we now know that companies are not required to disclose product information at all times and in the language understood by the majority of our people. As a result most of our people end up consuming expired goods. This should come to an end. Only relevant authorities can impose such sanctions through existing laws and, most importantly, improving such laws.
It is our understanding that the Government of Botswana has mandated the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs to protect consumers against such unfair business practices.
The law should be revised to permit heavy penalties for failure to obey the Food Control Act. This could mean closing down such retailers and their chain stores should there be need. We cannot afford to have tax payers money being wasted paying for medical bills for illness which were intentionally caused by businesses that make millions in profits from selling expired goods to innocent citizens. In fact we should tighten the screws on such retailers so their peers also get to learn form them. We cannot compromise the health of our people, neither can we let them be cheated off their hard earned by those who sell expired goods.
The #Bottom-line though is that the Government through the Department of Consumer Affairs should not be reactive, but rather proactive, in dealing with issues relating to adherence to laws that govern trade and consumers in this country. Enough is enough.