By Arans Tabaruka
The Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Tourism, Trade & Industry Hon. Mwine Mpaka has disclosed plans by the committee to table a consumer protection and Management bill.
The proposed bill seeks to provide for consumer protection of Ugandans.
The need for this law is hinged on clear stipulation on the rights of consumers in general regardless of which product or service being offered to them.
Article 79 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda empowers Parliament to make laws, clause 4 (b) of Article 94 and Rule 121 (1) of the Rules of Procedure permit a Member of Parliament to introduce a Private Member’s Bill.
In addition, Rule 159(b) of the Rules of Procedure provides for specific functions of a Committee of Parliament including initiating any Bill within the Committee’s area of competence.
While Rule 123(2) is to the effect that a Bill initiated by a Committee shall be introduced by the Chairperson of the Committee in the same manner as a Private Member’s Bill.
Mwine Mpaka says the Constitution mandates for equal protection of the law and equality before and under the law.
It’s evident, the growing commodity prices turbulence demand for consumer protection arising from fragmented trade laws that too necessitate for a specific legislation on consumer protection in Uganda.
“While there are few interventions in form of legislation, there is a disconnect between the legal provisions and their practical application.”- the committee press statement partly reads.
Hon Mpaka added that the influence of foreign laws on consumer protection legislation in Uganda is also to blame and creates a need for the overhaul.
Speaking to the press, Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye said the consumer protection law is necessary to offer protection of the law to consumers not only against fraud and dishonesty in commercial dealings but also oppressive bargains and qualitatively deficient goods and services.
Analytical view on the existing legal framework
Consumer protection under the Contracts Act Section 10 (1) of the Contracts Act, 2010 provides for a contract as an agreement made with the free consent of parties with capacity to contract, for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object, with the intention to be legally bound.
This grants a consumer the right to enter into a contract with consent. However it leaves a gap in as far as the ordinary consumers who are not parties to the contract and get the goods from retail shops are concerned. Such a person cannot sue where there has been misrepresentation by the manufacturer as they aren’t parties to the contract.
The general law as enunciated in the case of Dunlop Pneumatic LTD V Selfridge is that therefore a stranger to a contract cannot act upon it or take away obligation of the parties.
This creates a gap as the rights of the ordinary consumers are not provided for hence the need to enact a law that protects all consumers.
Consumer protection under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, Section 13(2)(d) provide that in a contract of sale, there is an implied condition that the buyer will enjoy quiet possession of the goods.
Another key highlight of the need for the consumer protection is the urgent need to revamp the National Drug Policy and Authority Act that provides under section 5, for among it’s functions to, deal with the development and regulation of the pharmacies and drugs in the country; approve the national list of essential drugs and supervise the revisions of the list of drug needs to ensure that the needs are met as economically as possible.
This law however only protects consumers only in regard to drugs and there is no remedy against the manufacture provided for under this law where the consumer gets to buy ineffective drugs.
The Food and Drugs Act Section 2(1), (2) and (3) provides for substance, ingredient, controls and preparation of food but the law is very ineffective as there is no proper supervision and as such people are always exposed to consuming hazardous food.
Much as the Uganda National Bureau of Standards Act establishes the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) whose functions include promoting standardization in commerce, industry, health, safety and social welfare as per Section 3, the Act falls short of directly protecting consumers who find themselves consuming goods of less quality that find their way in the market.
The current laws remain too many and weak hence making it quite a challenge to implement at once and to be read by a lay man as to understand their rights as consumers and how they can be protected by the law.
Most of the laws are also not realistic as they do not fit the social, economic and political problems of the consumers.
Most consumers in Uganda buy goods from retail shops and therefore little follow up as to the quality of the goods is emphasised.
The State has a duty to protect and defend the masses by bringing low quality and hazardous goods on the market since they will be sure that the consumers are protected by law.