Bill to protect consumer rights in the offing
The government is rigorously working to pass a comprehensive Consumer Protection Bill to bolster consumer protection regime in Ghana, the caretake Minister of Trade and Industry, Samuel Jinapor, has told Parliament.
The overarching object of the bill is to protect, secure and defend the rights of consumers through a structured institutional mechanism and legal framework that will ensure that consumers play a significant role in keeping erring businesses in check.
When assented to by the President, the Act will see to the establishment of a state agency with the sole responsibility to enforce those consumer protection rights.
The agency would also promote competition and ensure regional integration through digital trade and e-commerce, the minister said.
Presenting a policy statement on consumer protection in Parliament yesterday, Mr Jinapor said, “with the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and Ghana as host of the AfCFTA Secretariat, consumer protection law is more important now than ever”.
“The government of President Akufo-Addo is fully committed to the passage of this law, and it is my hope that when the time eventually comes, after the bill has been approved by Cabinet, this august House will fully support the government to pass this very consequential legislation,” he said.
He said today, most countries had consumer protection policies and legislation that secured the rights of consumers against unfair practices, citing Australia’s Competition and Consumer Act, 2010; Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Act, 2010; the UK’s Consumer Rights Act, 2015; South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act, 2018; and India’s Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
Most jurisdictions, he said, also had special bodies that dealt with consumer protection such as the Competition and Consumer Commission of Australia, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission of Nigeria, the Competition Commission of Kenya, and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore.
He, however, said in the case of Ghana, attempts to protect consumers predated the country’s attainment of independence, citing various statutory Acts adopted by the government to combat the market forces in the interests of consumers and the economy.
“Despite these efforts, we have not been able to develop, over the years, a single legislation for the protection of consumers,” he said.
Currently, he said, Ghana’s legal and regulatory framework for the protection of consumer rights was fragmented in different pieces of legislation, including the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission Act, 1997 (Act 538), the National Petroleum Authority Act, 2005 (Act 691), the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775), the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851), and, recently, the Ghana Standards Authority Act, 2022 (Act 1078).
“This phenomenon has led to the creation of different bodies, with different jurisdictions, over different aspects of consumer protection, such as the National Communications Authority, in respect of electronic communications; the National Petroleum Authority, in respect of petroleum products; the Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission in respect of the supply, distribution and sale of electricity and natural gas; and the Bank of Ghana in respect of banking services.”
He expressed worry that such state of affairs had long been recognised as undesirable, and that it had led to a significant part of the market remaining unregulated in terms of consumer protection, leading to a constant violation of consumer rights without adequate remedy.
“In those areas that seem to be regulated, there are instances of jurisdictional conflict among the various regulators, leaving the consumer with no remedy and not getting value for money,” he said.
For example, he cited how consumers were being exploited in shops who they were unable to return defective goods they bought back to shops some of which had signs like “Goods sold are not returnable.”
In most cases, consumers who sought to vindicate their rights had to resort to the courts, relying on common law principles of contract and tort, which imposed a higher evidentiary burden on the consumer, he said.
Mr Jinapor also cited the case of Nana Tabiri Gyansah III v Accra Brewery (Suit No. H1/368/05, decided by the Court of Appeal on 10th March, 2006), a consumer who bought two bottles of Castle Milk Stout and suffered injuries after consuming half a bottle of the drink, was left without any remedy, on the grounds that he could not prove the negligence of the manufacturer.
“In the words of the court, the plaintiff did not lead evidence to establish a nexus between his permanent and temporary health injuries and his consumption of the defendant’s manufactured castle milk stout,” he said.
Mr Jinapor added that the state was required, by Article 35 clause 2 of the 1992 Constitution to seek the welfare of all citizens.
And, as a respected member of the international community, he said Ghana was enjoined by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to institute a functional consumer protection regime to protect consumers as well as enshrine their rights in the marketplace.
Contributing to the statement, various MPs lauded for apprising the House on the progress of the bill.
For instance, the NDC North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, underscored the importance of the bill and expressed his optimism that the whole House would support the bill when it was presented to the House.
The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, also commended Mr Jinapor for spearheading the initiatimg of the bill and urged other ministers to emulate him by constantly updating the House on matters pertaining to their ministries.