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15.10.2005 General News

Ministry to develop consumer policy

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Accra, Oct. 15, GNA - Ghana is to develop a consumer protection policy by the end of 2006 to give rise to a consumer protection law and the establishment of an Authority by the end of 2007. The Consumer Authority is expected to deal with all consumer related issues.

Mr Kofi Osei-Ameyaw, a Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, said on Friday that small claims court with flexible procedures that would offer speedy redress would also be established as a step towards the implementation of the United Nations guidelines for consumer protection. He was speaking at the inauguration of the Africa Office of Consumer International, a non-governmental organization in Accra. Consumer International, with headquarters in England had its Africa Head Office located in Harare and another office in Dakar, Senegal to champion the course of consumers in the sub-region.

In relocating to Ghana, the operations of the two offices in Harare and Dakar have been merged to enable the organization to better serve its members and consumers in the Africa region.

Mr. Osei-Ameyaw said a competition law was also being developed to complement the work to be executed under the consumer protection thematic area.

The Deputy Minister explained that the need for these actions from government have been necessitated by the scattered nature of existing laws in Ghana and the show of apathy towards consumer laws and rights. "In fact, there is no on-set of legislation that deals with consumer protection in Ghana. They are scattered all over," he said. Some of the laws are the Standards laws that provide technical regulations and standards on products consumed and the Food and Drugs Board Law that makes provisions on the quality of foods and drugs. There also exist the Weights and Measures laws and the Sales of Goods Act and the Labelling law.

Mr Osei-Ameyaw said in spite of the existence of these laws, most consumers are either not aware of them or even if they are aware, they are unable to enforce the rights by seeking appropriate redress. "For me, and probably for all of us...I believe very weak, very weak enforcement mechanism, the high cost of enforcement which requires time and money in pursuing redress coupled with the deep apathy of consumers seem to me, to be the reasons for this very unfortunate state of affairs, he added.

The Deputy Minister noted that the existence of the United Nations guidelines on consumer protection adopted in 1999 does not help matters. He said this is because the laws, which urge member governments to protect consumers from hazards to health and safety promote the protection of economic interest of consumers and provide adequate information to enable the consumer to make informed choices, among others, are not published.

"It is in the light of these challenges that the Ministry has placed a high premium on consumer protection by adopting the subject as part of the broad trade policy..."

Mr Osei-Ameyaw welcomed the presence of Consumer International in Ghana and expressed the hope that the Ministry would work hand-in-hand with the office in Ghana to improve consumer rights in the country. Mr Richard Lloyd, Director General of CI, said the choice of Ghana was to enable the organization to provide enhanced services to members. He said CI aimed to become a global voice to better serve the people who were CIs greatest assets.

Ms Marilena Lazzarini, President of CI, said the organization had 234 members in 113 countries.

Consumer International also works with over a 100 other organizations in Africa.

She said the role of CI was to fight for and promote consumers' rights and responsibilities at country, regional and global levels. Ms.Lazzarini said CI believed that the consumer had the right to access basic goods and services such as clean water, education and health.

She said apart from its work at the country level, CI also worked with United Nations' bodies such as the UN Economic Commission for Africa to ensure that decisions taken by such bodies promote the rights of consumers.

The CI President said the organization was going through a restructuring phase to become more effective globally and that the choice of Ghana was because of her good democratic governance, political and economic stability and the growth of NGOs' activities in Ghana.