Consumer Rights Day reminds us of collective duty to combat shoddy service

Yesterday consumers throughout the world celebrated the 24th anniversary of World Consumer Rights Day.

Yesterday consumers throughout the world celebrated the 24th anniversary of World Consumer Rights Day.

World Consumer Rights Day was introduced in 1983 by Consumers International and is observed every March 15.

The main objective of celebrating the day is to promote eight basic consumer rights, namely access to basic goods and services; to safety; to choice; to information; to representation; to redress; to consumer education and to a healthy environment.

By coordinating and promoting this day, Consumers International helps to ensure that these rights are given high priority by all governments.

To celebrate it this year, the National Consumer Forum - a NGO that promotes consumer rights in South Africa - held a conference in Johannesburg.

The theme of the conference was Holding the Public and Private Sector Accountable.

This is an important theme indeed if one considers that the public in this country is faced with serious lapses of service delivery from the government.

The frustration experienced by Kabelo Thibedi - who held up a Home Affairs official with a toy gun - is one example of what such lapses can lead to.

It is important that consumers are educated about their rights.

On the other hand, the government must also educate its own staff and make them understand that the public are consumers whose rights to basis services must be respected.

The government must also ensure that the private sector respects these rights.

This can be done by creating legislation that protects consumers against, among others, unethical business practices.

Our government must be commended for developing such legislation.

These include the National Credit Act of 2005 and the much-anticipated Consumer Protection Bill, which will be tabled in parliament this year.

The act promotes responsible credit granting and prohibits reckless credit granting.

The Consumer Protection Bill aims to, among other things:

l Promote sustainable and environmentally responsible consumption and protect consumers from hazards to their health;

l Develop effective means of redress for consumers; and

l Promote and provide for consumer education.

Recent media reports about certain spice manufacturers continuing to use the banned Sudan Red dye in their products is a clear indication of the need for the bill. The dye is banned because it is believed it cause cancer.

In December most banks went on a credit card-issuing frenzy prior to the National Credit Act becoming law.

The results has been a 40percent increase in the number of credit cards in use and card debt reaching an all-time high of R37,5billion, despite an increase in interest rates.

Speaking at yesterday's conference, Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said: "This easy-credit frenzy is taking its toll on South Africans - there was a 7,9percent increase in civil summonses for debt last year, compared with 2005."