Zimbabwe’s consumers abused by Business and State actors: Biti

Former finance minister Tendai Biti says the country's inflation was the second highest in the world  after Venezuela.

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Former finance minister Tendai Biti says the country’s inflation was the second highest in the world  after Venezuela.

Debating on the consumer protection bill in the national assembly, Biti said the country’s consumers were exposed to abuse by business and state actors.

“I rise to give my qualified support to this bill.  I think the bill is a very important part of our legislation.  Consumers need to be protected against nefarious trade practices and conduct by our business people and market in general. I need to say, Madam Speaker, before I go into the mill, the ultimate consumer protection will actually come from a stable and sound macro-economic environment that protects consumers, that protects workers. Where you have a skewed macro-economic environment lacerated by hyper inflation our rate of inflation right now Madam Speaker, according to ZIMSTART, is now in excess of 78%, but those of us who measure prices on a day-to-day basis, the prices of our goods is way above 300%.  Our rate of inflation is only second to Venezuela in the world as I speak,” Biti.

Zimbabwe has of late witnessed a sharp increase of prices of goods and the  cost of living has escalated beyond the reach of many.

The MDC MP said it was time government moved and put measures to protect the vulnerable.

“Where you have a run-away inflation and hyper-inflation, there is no consumer protection. So, it is important to have a solid and sound macro-economic environment”.

The bill seeks to establish mechanisms to guard against hoarding of goods and services by business, empowering consumers with rights and recourse measures when they feel cheated by business as well as promotion of free trade against monopolistic powers business.

“One of the off-shoots of our unstable macro-economic environment is the multiple, four-tier pricing system. There is a price for the US$ and RTGS$ that is not sustainable when you have a regime of multiple pricing operating in a country. We also have a problem – when you have the commodification of the US$, that has occurred in Zimbabwe and has given birth to the black-market.  Wherever you have a parallel market or black market, you have unregulated territory. No one regulates fourth street, no one regulates Road Port but it has a direct multiplier-effect on the economy because the US$ has been commodified. That makes consumer protection very academic,” Biti said

“Consumer protection is also made academic when you are consuming other people’s goods. Zimbabwe is not producing and because of that, it becomes a dumping ground.  Madam Speaker Ma’am, we have become a huge dumping ground of cheap Chinese imports which are dysfunctional and do not meet our health and manufacturing standards. We have become a huge dumping ground of Japanese vehicles, 60% of the 1.5 million vehicles that are on the roads of Zimbabwe are second hand imported from Japan.  When you import rejects, they are not allowed to operate in their own country or be driven in countries like South Africa. When you buy defective Japanese vehicles, you have nowhere to complain to and there is no consumer protection. So, the long and short of what I am saying is that; where you have a dysfunctional economy, where there are no macro-economic fundamentals, then there is no consumer protection. The ultimate consumer protection is a sound, solid, macro-economic environment, which regrettably we do not have at present,” he said.

Biti said the bill must speak to the constitution and promote the bill of rights.

“Away from the political economy, I want to move to the bill itself.  In the Constitution of Zimbabwe, we have created a rights-based society. The Bill of Rights in Chapter 4 of the Constitution applies to everyone, Juristic and non-Juristic Acts, State and Non-State players. We have got so many rights that are codified in that Constitution.  We have the right to Freedom of Association, movement, Right to Equal Protection of the Law codified under Section 56 of the Constitution. We have the Right to Human Dignity, which is the most important right codified in terms of Section 50 of the Constitution.  We have the Right to Life that is codified under Section 48,” Biti said.

“When you come to Chapter 13 of the Constitution, you see the creation of bodies that look after some of the key rights that are mentioned in Chapter 4. So, you have got the Human Rights Commission, which generally looks after every right that is in the Constitution. We also have the Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Gender Commission. What you will not find in the Constitution Madam Speaker Ma’am is a Commission that looks after consumer rights, you will not find it.  However, the silence of the Constitution in creating this right does not mean that this was not the intention of those who made the Constitution to create a commission to protect consumer rights. Why do consumer rights need to be protected? They need to be protected because the field of trade and market rights is so huge. It means that in the area that we find all our people – as you are seated there Madam Speaker, you probably have gone through 15 consumer contracts this morning alone.  You went into a shop and bought something, you visited Pick n Pay and bought a packet of pork, visited Farm and City and bought a packet of fertilizer, that is a consumer contract.  This means that we must give the same protection as provided in the Constitution to these other contracts to consumer contracts which are so humongous and multifarious. It therefore means that the board that we must create to protect consumer rights must be on equal footing with other constitutional bodies that are found in Chapter 13 of the Constitution.  In Chapter 13 of the Constitution, we have the Human Rights Commission, Gender Commission and the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission. Madam Speaker Ma’am, it also follows that we need a Consumer Protection Commission and not a Consumer Protection Agency.  The difference is important because the Commission becomes independent, appointed by Parliament and answerable to Parliament and not the Minister of Industry and Commerce.  We have nothing against the Minister but consumer rights are so important because they represent the day-to-day reproduction of an individual. 

For you to be an individual Madam Speaker Ma’am, you need these consumer rights.  When you wake up in the morning, you use a tooth-brush, you visit the bathroom and use a tissue and you eat corn flakes for breakfast which you bought from Pick n Pay. That is a consumer contract. So, consumer rights are so important and we need to protect them through an Independent Commission. I urge the Minister to revisit this point and create a Commission in this very important bill.”