As Ghana joins the whole world to mark World Consumer Rights Day, which falls on Friday 15th March, CUTS Ghana – a research and a public policy think-tank – is calling on regulatory bodies to be proactive and implement already-existing regulations to protect the interests of consumers against bad services and inferior goods in the absence of a functioning Consumer Protection Law.
“In the absence of a functional consumer protection law, it is imperative for sectoral regulators to step up their regulatory mandate to ensure that consumers in the country are not given a bad deal. The task of protecting Ghanaian consumers should be not reserved for a non-existent Consumer Protection Law. There are numerous provisions in existing laws and regulations which when implemented can contribute to the protection of consumers from bad corporate practices,” said Mr. Appiah Kusi Adomako, Country Director of CUTS Ghana.
Mr. Adomako made this call when he was addressing a cross-section of journalists as part of activities to mark World Consumer Rights Day in Ghana.
Status of the Consumer Protection Law
For more than three decades since the country attempted to have a consumer protection law, the draft bill has now been included in the list of bills to be considered by Parliament this year. It appears there is a diminished interest in the bill by government and businesses, which is why the bill has taken a long time to get passed.
Mr. Adomako noted: “The absence of a functional consumer protection law has literally made Ghana a junkyard for inferior goods and poor service delivery. If Ghanaian businesses cannot produce goods and services to meet world-class standards, Ghana may not be able to take advantage of the Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and export to other markets where are standards are high”.
Financial and banking services
The central bank must step its regulatory efforts to ensure that providers of financial services in the country do not abuse consumers rights or take consumers for granted. According to a research undertaken by CUTS Ghana, most users of financial services in the research mentioned unauthorised charges on their accounts as a major concern to them. Key among are them are deductions made when a customer uses a third-party bank ATM machine to take money when the customer’s own bank ATM is down.
Most banks in the country charge a flat monthly fee for ATM cards. ATM machines can be unavailable or down due to a number of reasons: power outage, lack of funds, system issue or machine breakdown etc. All these reasons are, however, not the fault of customers. However, when a customer uses a third-party machine to withdraw money at the time when his own bank ATM is down, the customer incurs a cost that is not refunded to him by his own bank. To resolve this mischief, CUTS Ghana is appealing for the Bank of Ghana to allow customers to be able to use a third-party ATM twice a month for withdrawals without any charge to counter the effects of ATM breakdowns in the country.
Again, consumers also complain that there is no information disclosure on fees and charges; for example, when one intends to use a third-party visa ATM for withdrawal. In most countries, prior before proceeding, the charges to be incurred are indicated to the consumer, giving the customer a choice to either proceed or not with the transaction.
Another practice some consumers have also expressed worry about is that some banks charge a customer who walks into the branch to make a withdrawal of less than GH¢1000. If a bank can accept a cash deposit of under GH¢1000 without charging the customer, then the same bank should be able to allow the customer to withdraw any amount below GH¢1,000 without incurring any charge. This practice is very unfair, since it is not compulsory for one to use an ATM. If care is not taken, it will deter people from using banking services.
Of late, lots of Ghanaians using pre-paid ECG/PDS meters have been complaining that the units they buy for prepaid meters have been running faster than it used to be, though there has not been any upward review of tariffs. 65% of percent of respondents sampled complains about this. While lots of reasons could account for this, CUTS Ghana is requesting PURC to mandate the PDS to provide enhanced disclosure of consumption for those who use pre-paid meters. For now, the situation is making it seem that one is better-off with a present-consumption meter. CUTS therefore calls on the PURC to investigate the complaints and address them.
Since Ghana has not been able to domesticate the Montreal Convention on the rights of airlines passengers, the rights of Ghanaian air-travellers are sometimes violated without any recourse mechanism. Issues of delays, flight cancellations, over-booking, delayed and lost luggage are major concerns for passengers. Some international airlines that operate in Ghana keep to a high standard in their home country and other markets; but when it comes to Ghana, they provide poor customer service.
As the country plans to make the Accra airport an aviation hub, CUTS is calling on the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) to operationise the Consumer Protection Directives as a way of protecting consumers from unfair practices.
Consumers have expressed a number of concerns they face in the telecommunication sector of the economy. Key among them are the high cost of Internet/data and its expiration, poor connectivity, and poor quality of calls.
CUTS Ghana calls on the National Communication Authority to avoid over-regulation in the sector, which increases the cost of operation for the telcos. CUTS is also calling on the telcos to take a second look at the expiry date they place on data bundles. MTN and Vodafone can take a cue from the no-expiry data bundle plan instituted by Airtel/Tigo.
Road and Public Safety
One of the rights of a consumer is the right to safety. The rise in number of road accidents on major roads in urban areas has become a major concern to motorists and pedestrians. The Police Service for example reported over 1,200 motor accident deaths, 6,145 accident cases and 11,053 vehicles involved in accidents from January to June 2018. These accidents are not only a result of driver recklessness, but also the poor nature of roads, consequences of unfavourable weather conditions (i.e. flooding), malfunctioning traffic-lights and abandoned vehicles.
The lack of adequate streetlights and/or the non-operating streetlights together with out-of-order traffic lights create safety and security issues. Other public safety issues – such as open excavations, indiscriminate disposal of refuse, choked gutters and drains – impair the citizens’ right to public safety.
CUTS Ghana calls on urban roads and city authorities to as a matter of urgency improve public safety by fixing whatever has broken.
CUTS is a public policy think-tank working in the areas of consumer protection and education; trade and development; competition and economic regulations; and governance and fiscal policy.