Thursday, October 29, 2020

Authority receiving complaints of unfair business practices during lockdown

The Competition and Consumer Protection Authority’s Director of Communications and Advocacy, Gideon Nkala, says that the Authority continues to receive complaints from consumers about unfair business practice albeit on a smaller scale.

While some of those complaints relate to alcohol-based hand sanitisers, Nkala that the statutory instrument issued by President Mokgweetsi Masisi helped curb predatory trade in these sanitisers.

When COVID-19 public service announcements began suffusing the airwaves and taking up substantial acreage in newspapers, there emerged a not altogether lawful cottage industry of hand sanitiser production. Some of what was touted as sanitisers were actually watered down detergents like Jik and Windolene – which can become a serious health hazard when used on bare hands. The Authority did issue a warning about“dubious products being sold in the market.” Section 15(4) of the Consumer Protection Act outlaws trading in goods that do not conform to the mandatory safety standards set by the Botswana Bureau of Standards (BoBS) or international bodies it recognises. Section 15(5) empowers the Authority to re-call unsafe goods which do not conform to mandatory safety standards, to halt trade of such goods, to notify the public about unsafe goods as well as to “direct the supplier to replace the goods, refund any consumer who bought the unsafe goods or compensate the consumer for any damage suffered by the consumer in using the unsafe goods at an amount determined by the Authority.

In a statement that the Authority issued before the lockdown, Nkala indicated that they would be monitoring the situation to guard against unfair business practices. While the Authority’s offices are closed, some of its officers (including Nkala himself) have been working from home and fielding calls from members of the public. Nkala says that he has received complaints related to price inflation about one supermarket chain. In the case of a complaint from Metsimotlhabe largely because of the lockdown constraints, he was unable to ascertain the veracity of the complaints. In the second case, Nkala received two different complaints from Otse about a local store having increased the price of a bag of potatoes from P49 to P70. On following up these reports telephonically, the store manager confirmed the prices and indicated that the price increase was unavoidable.

Apparently, the store had been buying the potatoes at a cheaper price from South Africa but not long ago, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security did, in terms of the border closures policy, suspend the importation of potatoes. This forced the store to buy from a Gantsi farmer who sells his produce at a Gabane warehouse at a higher price. Nkala says that he confirmed this account to be true. In explaining his own pricing, the Gantsi farmer stated that unlike his competitor farmers in South Africa who draw water from the Orange River, he has to contend with high input costs – that include extraction of water in a desert.

For consumers, the lockdown and implementation of the border closures policy have eliminated the option of shopping around the region, town or village for cheaper products.

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