June 12, 2006, THE POST

By Joan Chirwa

THE Consumer Unity and Trust Society African Resource Centre (CUTS ARC) has said a strong law on consumer protection needs to be put in place in Zambia.

And Energy Regulation Board (ERB) executive director Silvester Hibajene has said communities need to be educated on their responsibilities towards the enhancement of service delivery by commercial utilities.

In an interview after the launch of the Lusaka Consumer Watch Group (LCWG) on Saturday, CUTS ARC research officer Vladimir Chilinya said there had been weak consumer protection by utilities in the water, energy and communications sector.

Chilinya hoped the creation of the LCWG would help address consumer concerns in service delivery.

“This should serve as a window where people can take their complaints and then they will be addressed, but we only hope it will be broadened, to be very inclusive,” Chilinya said.

He said a consumer was always at the mercy of the service providers.

Chilinya advised the regulatory alliance to prioritise community education on the importance of the consumer watch groups.

Communications Authority of Zambia (CAZ), Energy Regulation Board and National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) formed the LCWG as a regulatory alliance for the commercial utilities.

The initiative was hoped to extend to other parts of the country within the next few years to look into the interests of consumers in the energy, water and ICT sectors.

And Hibajene said community sensitisation was expected to begin almost at the same time as the launch of the consumer watch group.

“We expect the watch groups to educate consumers because consumers also have a lot of misunderstanding to what is expected of them. For example, people steal oil from ZESCO transformers and others steal ZAMTEL cables which makes the whole area out of communication and yet these people live among the community, some people even know who are the perpetrators of these crimes,” Hibajene said. “The consumers therefore need to be educated that they need to protect these infrastructure.”

Hibajene said creating a sense of responsibility among the community would help in achieving development goals set out by the three regulators.

Hibajene said an increase in consumer participation in the industry would lead to economic growth.

He said it was therefore, imperative for regulators in Zambia to refocus their attention to encompass the welfare of consumers as a vital component in ensuring service providers meet their obligations.

“Much as we appreciate and encourage expansion and investment in their operations, we believe service providers’ very existence depends on consumers and they should therefore pay more attention to ensuring the rights of the consumer and this can only be done in a transparent environment and by putting in place effective monitoring tools,” said Hibajene.

And Zambia Consumer Association (ZACA) president Muyunda Ililonga welcomed the formation of consumer watch groups.

Ililonga said watch groups would effectively monitor service provisions by service providers.

He said it was difficult for the association alone to do the monitoring of service provision as it was not in every part of the country.

“These structures of regulation will be effective as they are on the ground,” Ililonga said. “Consumer protection is a big task and one organisation cannot satisfy the whole market.”

He said the formation of the consumer watch groups in different sectors was important as they would have specific interest.

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