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Consumer protection law on cards

Mon, 22 September 2014 17:52
by Nangula Hambuda

The Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Law and Development Commission are investigating possibilities crating a law that protects consumers from buying meat products that are clearly branded.
This comes after revelations that some shops in Namibia and South Africa were selling Kangaroo and horse meat. The same revelations were also uncovered in Europe.
This was also confirmed by the Minister of Trade Calle Schleittwein saying, “Since the discovery last year, the ministry has been drafting a new Consumer Protection Act with the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC). These new regulations, which will be enforced by the ministry and the Namibian Standards Authority (NSA) will be in effect within the next 6 months and will force retailers to have more specific labels,”
His sentiments were corroborated by LRDC Director, Sacky Shangala. “We were able to bring in consultants to aid us with the consumer protection regulations. We will actually be publishing our discussions this week, and based on the feedback from the public, will be able to move forward with the act,” Shangala said.
 Not guilty
Schlettwein told The Villager that with the current status quo, meat retailers, such as those who were found with the Kangaroo meat, will not be prosecuted, “because they did not commit a crime by selling meat with traces of kangaroo.”
He maintained that the issue was caused by the ambiguity of the terms used in labelling, “If they label their food ‘venison’ for example, kangaroo meat also falls under that.” He said, “There is a serious margin of dishonesty from retailers that is uncalled for.”
In May last year, The Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT) reported that the biltong and processed meat of several retailers had tested positive for containing traces of Kangaroo meat after samples were sent to Stellenbosch, South Africa.
At the time, the NCT reported that the culprits could not be named and since at the time they said they would not remove the products from the shelves, it is unclear to the NCT whether the situation has been remedied and till now no action has been taken against them
The mixing of kangaroo meat into the biltong is said to lower costs on the retailer, but is fraudulent practice, as the UN guidelines on consumer protection state that food should be labeled in such a way that it specifically states the names of species, salt and fat content.
What the tests were able to find,  was that meat that was labeled Dröewors had traces of beef, sheep and kangaroo meat whereas the cheese Russians expected to have pork only had beef as well as lamb, other samples labelled beef also had pork, sheep and chicken inside them. This means that when you purchase beef biltong for N$100, you might only be getting as little as N$10 worth, while the rest is kangaroo meat or other substitutes.  
The Namibia Consumer Trust (NCT) maintains that, while no laws have explicitly been broken, lying to the customers is tantamount. Michael Gawaseb, Executive Director of the NCT said, “It is fraud, because you’re eating the product and don’t even know what it is.” So essentially the consumers are not paying a fair price, but also are being misled about products.
Schlettwein is now appealing to retailers to exercise honesty, though he is optimistic with the new regulations that will bind them by law to specify exactly what is in their products.
Creation of a lobby group
Chief Executive Officer of the NSI Riundja Kaakunga told The Villager that his organisation will also come up with a plan that ensures that compulsory standards specifications, for the protection of consumer rights are implemented as soon as possible. The plans will also encompass the creation of a consumer lobby group.
“The fight for consumer rights is and must remain a concerted effort of regulations and organized representatives,” said Kaakunga.
Kaakunga added that the  new consumer lobby body, and others who might not be officially recognised now will be able to work together and be have the responsibility of protecting consumers from issues often experienced, such as bad service and the sale of low quality or fake products.
The lobby group is meant to deal with the problems experienced by shoppers, including those of low quality products for sale in many small electronics shops in the country.
A snap survey by the Villager around Windhoek also showed that most consumers suffer the wrath of some fewe shops that do allow them to return goods that are faulty.
While there is need for consumer protection some retailers feel that there is no problem with the “No Refund, No Receipt, No Exchange” policy, that they are implementing.
Kaakunga also added that, “Retailers are under no obligation to refund items just because they are not of good quality.”
 “Prior to importation importers of electric and electronic apparatus must obtain a test report issued by an accredited test laboratory in terms of the applicable Compulsory Safety Specifications.”  NSI said.
These specifications will fall in line with the standards of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) which sets specifications for products, services and systems, to ensure quality, safety and efficiency and facilitate international trade.
The NSI was established by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) as the national standards body of Namibia. The institution covers many areas as well as other regulations for other food products.