The bft online, March 15, 2022
By Shadrack Nii Yarboi Yartey
As Ghana joins the rest of the world to mark World Consumer Rights Day 2022 which falls on Tuesday 15th March, CUTS International, Accra a research and a public policy think tank had interaction with some selected consumers to understand the current state of the Ghanaian consumer. The encounter took place in Accra and Kumasi to assess their general standard of living and their concerns about various sectors of the economy.
Fuel Price Hikes
The continuous rise of fuel is among the top concerns of many Ghanaians – because, according to them, it affects everything. A litre of petrol is now selling for Ghc 8.29, at Total with experts predicting it to hit the 9ghc by end of March. While the government have attributed the hike to the increase in crude oil on the global market and the Russia and Ukraine crisis, the majority of Ghanaians say the rise is a result of the cedi depreciation and the about seven (7) taxes government has imposed on petroleum products. These include Energy Fund Levy, Sanitation and Pollution levy, Price Stabilization and Recovery Levy, Energy Sector levy, Special Petroleum Tax, Road fund Levy, Energy Debt Recovery Levy. 80% of Ghanaians want the government to consider removing some of the taxes and levies on petroleum products to reduce the financial burden on them. Ghanaians are of the view that the special petroleum tax has outlived its relevance and needs to be scrapped.
Utility (Electricity & Water)
Majority of Ghanaians who use pre-paid ECG meters complained that the units they buy for their prepaid meters have been running faster than they used to be though there has not been any upward review of tariffs. Whilst lots of reasons could account for this, CUTS is requesting the PURC to mandate ECG to provide enhanced disclosure of consumption for those who use pre-paid meters. For now, it is making it seems that one is better off with a post-meter. PURC should be up and doing to investigate the complaints and address them.
Majority of urban dwellers in Ghana are unhappy about the frequent cut in the water supply to their homes for weeks without prior notice from the Ghana water company limited. They end up paying for water they never use monthly. They want the Ghana Water Company Limited to be up and doing and address the cut in the water supply to their homes and workplaces. In the event of any maintenance work, prior notice should be served to customers to help them store enough water for the period.
Road and Public Safety
One of the rights of every consumer is the right to safety. Road accidents continue to be a national security issue in the country as more people continue to die from the canker than from terminal diseases. For example, between March 2020 when the first covid-19 case was reported in Ghana and March 2021, road accident deaths has overtaken total Covid-19 casualties. Current statistics from the Motor Transport and Drivers Division (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service paint a rather unfortunate picture with 2,560 road accidents cases reported between January and February of 2021. This involved 1,581 commercial vehicles, 974 motorcycles, and 2,766 pedestrians have been knocked down.
The statistics also revealed that the majority of the accidents recorded in the first quarter of 2021 is as a result of the absence of street lights for both pedestrians and drivers, drunk driving, driving tired, and over-speeding. Ghanaians want urban roads and city authorities to as a matter of urgency should improve public safety by replacing whatever is broken on the roads.
Ghanaian consumers have expressed several concerns they face in the telecommunication sector of the economy. Key among them is the high cost of internet/data and its expiration, poor connectivity and poor quality of calls. They expressed concerns about the sim card re-registration exercise. People have had to abandon their work and spent the entire day at a registration centre.
National Communication Authority ought to avoid over-regulation in the sector which increases the cost of operation on the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). There is also the need for the MNOs to take a second look at the expiring date they place on data bundles. Ghanaians also want the sim card registration decentralized to make the exercise easier and seamless. They also want the March deadline date for the same pushed to next year to give ample time to allow for all those who are yet to register to do so.
Financial and Banking Services
Most users of financial services mentioned unauthorized 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 to withdraw money when the customer’s bank ATM is down. Most banks in the country charge a flat monthly fee for ATM cards. ATM can be unavailable or down due to some reasons: power outage, lack of funds, system issue or machine breakdown. 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 bank ATM is down, the customer incurs a cost.
The Central Bank must improve its regulatory and supervisory efforts to ensure that the providers of financial services in the country do not abuse consumers’ rights nor take consumers for granted.
Status of the Consumer Protection Law
It has been more than three decades since the country attempted to have a Consumer Protection law-despite calls for the passage of the same over the period. It appears there is a diminished interest in the bill by the government and businesses which is why the bill has taken a long time to get passed. In 2018, CUTS together with Consumer Protection Agency launched an e-petition that got up to 20,000 signatories to garner support for the passage of the law. The draft bill has now been listed among the list of bills to be considered by Parliament.
In the absence of the functional consumer protection law to protect the rights of consumers, sectoral regulators must step up with their regulatory mandate to ensure that consumers in the country are not given a bad deal. The task for protecting the Ghanaian consumers should be not reserved for a non-existent Consumer Protection Law. There are numerous provisions in existing laws and regulations that when implemented can inure to the protection of consumers from bad corporate practices.
Regulatory bodies ought to be proactive and implement the already existing regulations to protect the interest of consumers against bad services and inferior goods. Government should also heed the plea of Ghanaians and take steps to address the various concerns raised by Ghanaians.
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